Love, a Sign of a Christian
"I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
With these words Jesus assigns love as the true and genuine sign of a Christian. The love that Jesus speaks about is agape (self-giving, loyal concern), a love that requires a total and complete commitment. It is this kind of love with which god loves us. It is this kind of love that will always be the model of the love that we must have for others. For the readers of John's Gospel, John was presenting a new and revolutionary kind of love requiring, indeed, demanding a change in attitude in those who would be practicing it.
This kind of love, which Jesus preached and demanded of his disciples, was a totally unselfish love, insofar as it demanded that they open the doors that they may have closed against others, that they respond generously to appeals for their help, and that they forgive the harm that others may have inflicted on them.
Just as he did with his disciples, Jesus does with us: he asks us, as his followers, to commit ourselves to the practice of this kind of love and this, then, will be the mark that distinguishes us as Christians and makes us care for one another.
A man died, arrived in heaven and stood before God. This man had been concerned all his life with the pain and injustice in the world. So, as he stood before God he cried out to him: "Dear God, look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don't you send help?"
God responded, "I did send help. I sent you."
There is in each of us an impulse to care about others. Every day we are bombarded by the news of people's needs. We hear stories about poor, sick, hungry people around the world. We hear the accounts of victims of violence and despair. These calls for help touch our souls and, like the man in the story, we may cry out to God for we may find ourselves overwhelmed.
This impulse to care often leads us to the desire to serve others. We often find in ourselves a deep longing to give – to give to others, to give to our communities, to love, to care for the whole of creation. We may feel tremendous sorrow for any human being who doesn't know how to care, how to give. Truly one of the worst of human sufferings is not being able to find a way to love, to give of one's heart.
Committing ourselves to the kind of love Christ asks of us can do marvelous and wonderful things for us. It can, for example, open our eyes to facts that we might otherwise overlook. It can make us realize that the poor in the world belong to our family; that those who live with depression might be saved by our care for them; that our efforts may count for a lot in bringing peace to our world. Committing ourselves to this love by truly caring for one another can make us aware of an essential quality of our very being. You may, for example, be sitting alone feeling sorry for yourself because of some emotional or physical pain you are experiencing, when suddenly the phone rings. A friend is calling, a friend who is terribly depressed. And without hesitation you come out of yourself just to be there for your friend, to say a few reassuring words. When you put down the phone, after having shared your friend's problem, don't you feel a little bit better about yourself?
So you see how being a Christian is really being called to caring and serving one another. Loving, caring and serving one another is what the Christian life is all about. And what we do for one another really affects the whole world. Our good deeds, done out of love, are like pebbles cast into a pond: they create ripples that spread in all directions. Our acts of caring and service to one another, humble and simple and quiet though they may be, become part of a widening circle of compassion and love that essentially encompasses the whole creation.