I give you a new commandment---to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples---if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35 (NET)
Most certainly, these words represent a very familiar saying that is attributed to Jesus. Some might insist that this statement represents the cornerstone of what it means to live as a Christian, and it would be difficult to disagree with that assertion. Surely, those that lay claim to a confession of Jesus as Lord would and should have a desire to live out the prescription of these words, thereby showing themselves to be functionaries within the community that has oriented their lives around Jesus and His pronouncement of the kingdom of His God.
These words are reported to have fallen from the lips of Jesus at what is generally referred to as the “Last Supper,” and the statement is immediately bracketed by Judas’ departure for what is revealed to be the purpose of executing his plan to betray Jesus to the Temple authorities, and Jesus’ insistence that Peter is going to be shortly offering his own betrayal in the form of a three-fold denial of his Lord.
So what is meant by these words? What is implied? What will it look like when Jesus’ disciples are loving one another? Quite rightly, each person comes to this text and these words with ideas concerning what it indeed it means to love. Due to the fact that humans are relational creatures, formed in community with other relational creatures, love generally comes to be defined in relational terms---love of and for other people. For the most part, for good or for ill, humans formulate their conceptions about love primarily according to that which is received from parents and family (regardless of who or what plays those roles).
The love of fathers and mothers (or lack thereof from whomever plays those roles) readily serves to shape and define the parameters that are placed around the concept of love. The love of a father or a mother is generally considered to be the strongest type of love. It is this type of love, which is largely and ideally of the completely unconditional variety, that is simply presumed upon and taken to be an unalterable matter-of-fact. It is this ideal of love that most people desire to cultivate in their relationships, regardless of the type of relationship.
The model of love that is associated with mothers and fathers, whether it is a good model to which should be aspired or a faulty model which might possibly need to be avoided, lies behind the age-old adage (within societies that do not participate in arranged marriages) that insists that women most often marry men that are like their father, whereas men desire to marry women that remind them of their mothers (think of the song lyrics “I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad”).
For better or for worse, humans are programmed to seek out love based on the terms of love that have been presented to them from the time of their birth. Unsurprisingly then, it is this type of love (painting with an overly broad brush), that people desire to offer up as part of the experience of their relationship with the Creator God. Conversely, it comes to be believed that such is the type of love that the Creator God desires to share with them---defining the God of love based upon (generally) parentally constructed concepts of love. Of course, this does not hold true one hundred percent of the time.