Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once wrote in his provocative style, "one of the hardest commandments is that Christians are to love one another—even if they are married." Loving others is always a challenge. And if we're honest, at times this challenge is actually heightened by proximity and familiarity. So goes the old maxim, "familiarity breeds contempt."
Yet in the thirteenth chapter of John, Jesus is speaking with his disciples, those with whom he is closest. And it's in this context that he gives this difficult commandment. "Love one another." Perhaps Jesus is anticipating the challenge of carrying forward the Gospel: its difficulties and conflicts for his friends. He knows that among those seated at the table significant disagreements will arise.
Perhaps this is why Jesus also reminds his friends that this love they are to share has only been made possible by Jesus' love for them, not by their own efforts. Here we are reminded that loving one another—especially those with whom we are close—is made possible only by the closeness of God's love given to us in Jesus Christ.
Lord of love, make us conduits of your love, that we may love even those with whom we are close. Amen.
John 13:31-35 (NRSV)
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
32 "If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
33 "Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'
34 "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
35 "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."