The Whole Law

Meditations on the Gospel (John 13:1, 33, 34, 35) by Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet

My little children (Jn. 13:33, etc). Recall to mind these words of the Savior. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end (Ibid.). And now He gathers all His tenderness, to announce the precept of fraternal charity. For to establish His law of love, He wished to make His disciples feel His heart fully penetrated with tenderness. My little children: He had never called them thus; He had never called them His children. And, to say something more tender, He says: My little children, as if to say: Now is the time when I shall give birth to you, I have been in the pangs of labor all my life; but now it is time for the last efforts and cries by which you will be born: My little children. So listen to these fatherly words. Yet a little while I am with you: so take advantage of this time to hear My last wishes. You shall seek me: a time will come when you give anything for the consolation of hearing My words, and as I said to the Jews: Whither I go you cannot come, so I say to you now; so take advantage for a little while longer of the time I have to spend with you: for whither I go you cannot come, as I said to the Jews. What is He leading up to with this preparation and this demonstration of a special tenderness? Let us listen, let us hear, let us believe.

New Commandment

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another (Jn. 13:34). Why is this a new commandment? Because the spirit of the new law is to act with love, and not with fear, because, although the precept of fraternal charity exists in the Old Testament, it had never been explained as well as in the new, and on this point you can read St. Luke, chapter 10, verses 29 to 37, in which Jesus Christ explains and decides that all men are our neighbor and there is no longer any stranger for us. Thirdly, this commandment is new because Jesus Christ adds to it this important circumstance, that we must love one another as He has loved us. He has preceded us with His love, when we were not thinking of Him: He came to us first; He is not repelled by our infidelities, by our ingratitude: He loves us in order to make us holy, to make us happy, disinterestedly; for He does not need us, nor does He need our services: with a love that flows naturally and is never deterred. So go and do likewise.

Why do I see bizarre hatreds among you, temper against temper, person against person, enmities, jealousies, sharpness, anger and hidden loathing? Is that how Jesus Christ loved us? And why do I see on the other hand flatteries, false or excessive deference? Is that how Jesus Christ loved us? And why do I see among you exclusive friendships, leagues and plots against each other? Is that how Jesus Christ loved us? And why make persons progress or regress depending on your inclination for them? Is that how Jesus Christ loved us?

He did show more of an inclination, if we may dare to speak thus, for St. John: It was the disciple that Jesus loved. But what was this inclination, according to the tradition of the holy doctors, but a special love for the virginal chastity that He found and preserved in St. John! And as for the other qualities of this beloved disciple, what was the love He had for him but a love of the goodness, gentleness, simplicity, candor, cordiality and tenderness and contemplation by which he was particularly suited to his Master? So love in this way. And did this special love with which He honored St. John make Him any more indulgent when he was wrong? And did it stop Him from saying to him along with his brother St. James: You know not what you ask (Mt. 20:22), and another time: You know not of what spirit you are (Lk. 9:55)? So do the same. And did His tenderness make Him prefer John to the others? Is it not Peter whom He placed at the head of the apostolic college and of the entire Church? In the end, He entrusted His holy mother to St. John. Who was better suited to her and to him by all the qualities we have mentioned and in particular his virginity? He was His family, His servant, and He preferred St. John who, on top of everything we have mentioned, was His close relative. So love in this way: have the consideration that blood demands, but base the heart of your affections upon virtue. And how far did Jesus take His love? To the point of giving His life for those He loved. Do not doubt that there are occasions when you must do the same for your brother. Love as I have loved, that is My new precept: the model of your love is Mine. Listen, My little children: do as I have done.

Distinguishing Love

But now comes the last word, more pressing than all the others: By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another (Jn. 13:35). This is the character of the Christian, the disciple of Jesus Christ. He who renounces charity renounces the Faith, abjures Christianity, and leaves the school of Jesus Christ, that is to say, His Church. So tremble, hardened hearts; tremble, the insensitive; tremble, all you whose hatred is implacable, and whose enmities are irreconcilable: you are no longer disciples of Jesus Christ; you are no longer Christians; you have renounced your baptism.

See the Church being born: one heart and one soul; all things were common unto them. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch (Acts 4:32, Acts 5:12), without dissension, envy or self-interest: And all the people admired them; and they said: Those are the disciples of Jesus; that was their special character. Envy, self-interest and hatred reign among all other men: the innocent flock of Jesus knew not these evils. My Savior, where are Your disciples now? Where is charity? Where is brotherly love? How rare it is! That is why You said that the time will come when scandals and iniquity will abound, and the charity of many will grow cold (Mt. 24:12); and that when You return You will scarcely find faith upon the earth (Lk. 18:8), faith animated by charity.

Let us weep, brethren, let us weep for charity grown cold in the multitude, among most of those who call themselves Christians; but also grown cold in our own hearts. Let us rekindle it: let us come to Jesus, let us listen tenderly to His last words, tenderly to what He said so tenderly. Fraternal charity becomes commendable to us for these reasons: because of the tenderness with which Jesus Christ recommends it to us, because of the time He chose to recommend it to us, because of the model He gives us of fraternal charity in His person, and because of the character of Christian that He attaches to this divine virtue. Let us be disciples of Jesus Christ; let us be Christians; that is to say, let us love our brothers; and how? As Jesus Christ has loved us. At these words He stopped, and left us to taste this new commandment of the law of grace.