In today’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: “love one another, as I have loved you.” Sounds easy enough, right? We all have family or friends in our lives who we love like Jesus loved his disciples. But Jesus isn’t just saying this to his friends in passing. He has just been betrayed. This is one of his final teachings to his disciples before he is to be killed.
Today, we live in a world where acts of retaliation, revenge, or even just outright attacks on others are values that are frequently more common and upheld than acts of love and acceptance. When we’re surrounded by a world that often encourages us to take the easy way out—to continue a cycle of negativity as opposed to resisting the urge and putting a stop to it—it’s hard to blame someone for doing just that.
But let’s look at today’s gospel again in context. Jesus is about to be betrayed. When Jesus says to love one another, what he really means is for us to forgive one another. Recently, Fr. Bryan Massingale spoke at Ignite: A Celebration for Justice upon receiving ISN’s Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award, where he shared his desire to “see and love the world as God sees and loves the world.” That love is unconditional, and often undeserved. For us to truly build a world where systemic injustices and prejudices can be eliminated, we will end up having to love those who may not deserve it—who we may even be encouraged to seek retaliation against—even as we continue our work against the greater injustice itself. The reality of the situation is that we won’t be changing anyone’s minds or viewpoints with a hateful or confrontational response, and allowing that anger—however justified it may be—to guide our judgment will also make us less effective agents for justice and social change.
It is not until we can learn to forgive others that we can truly love the world as God loves it, and as Jesus asks us to do in today’s gospel—unconditionally, and more importantly, undeserved.
AJ Rowe joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network staff in 2021 as digital communications coordinator. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and received a Jesuit education through both high school and college, graduating from John Carroll University in 2021.