THERE IS A WONDERFULLY LONG ACCOUNT OF THE LAST SUPPER in the Gospel according to St. John, much longer than the ones recorded in the first three gospels. During this conversation, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment, "That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." He goes on: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35). In these two directives Jesus supplied a simple means by which the world was to know his followers—by the love they had for one another and by extension, for all humanity. And if this were all that Jesus had to say on the subject we might take it to heart, endeavor to be good students, and do our best to love one another.
But the Master does not let his students off the hook so easily. Later in the discourse, Jesus says to his disciples, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12, 13). In these few words, Jesus wraps his disciples in his own love. Later, he makes the ultimate sacrifice of his own life for them and for the world. Jesus elevates their capacity to love to the same level as his capacity to love. He also reminds them that he is not the source of this command: "For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).
What does it really mean to lay down one's life for one's friends? In Jesus' case, he literally laid down his human life to prove in his resurrection from the grave that there is no death. But obviously Jesus didn't mean that we all literally lay down our lives for others. There would be very few Christians left if we did!
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