A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus settles in to teaching them His last minute instructions. But before He really gets rolling, two things happen.
First, He sends the traitor off to set things in motion. Jesus knows His time has come, and that one who has been called by Him and followed Him for the whole public ministry is going to betray Him to the Jewish leaders. Jesus tells Judas to go do as he has intended, before He teaches His true followers this last teaching.
And, as soon as He starts to teach, he is interrupted by Peter. Trying to tell the disciples that He is going to be leaving them is what prompts the interruption. Peter, in typical gung-ho fashion declares that he will be with Jesus whatever happens. But Jesus knows that this is beyond anyone. Instead, He makes clear what He does want the disciples to do when He is gone: love one another.
We will get more detailed teaching about this command after the interruption—as well as throughout the New Testament. But this is a key thing to understand. When Jesus is about to go to the cross to save the world, and He knows He will be leaving the Disciples to carry the ball, He has one instruction that trumps anything else: Love.
I don’t know if you would get that answer from a majority if you were to poll a bunch of Christians for the essence of their religious ethic. Many would say it is about holiness and avoiding sin, especially their pet-peeve sins. Others would say that it is all about justice and doing good in the cultural struggle, helping the poor and the disadvantaged. And far too many would tell you that it is all about success, about how God intends people to live i.e. the secret to the “good life.”
But Jesus and the rest of the New Testament would boil it down to “love as I have loved.” Love with Christ as our model. Or, if you prefer things not quite so narrow, “faith, hope and love, with the greatest of these being love.” More on that as Jesus continues His last minute teaching: