Our Lord spoke those words on the night of His betrayal and arrest. Judas had just left the table to put his plot into action. Within mere hours Jesus would be tried and crucified. Earlier that evening He had stooped down as a servant would, to wash the feet of His disciples, showing that He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He commanded His disciples to stoop down in the same humble way, and to serve one another.
Later, at the Passover meal, He gave them everything He had, His very death and life. He spoke of His coming death - "Where I am going, you cannot come." Jesus loved His disciples, more than they ever could have imagined or hoped for. He loved them all the way to His death on the cross. And having loved them, He gave them this mandate: "Love one another, as I have loved you." In other words, "In the same way that I stooped down for you as a servant, and gave myself to you, and laid down my life for you, in that way you are to love one another." That was Christ’s mandate to His disciples on the night before He went to His death. And it is His mandate to His Church, His commandment to everyone He has called through baptism to be His disciples: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
When Jesus says to His followers that they must "love one another," He means they must have a love which transcends mere feelings. He speaks of a divine and holy love that reaches out to the one who is difficult to love. It means reaching out to the unlovable, even to someone who seems to be an enemy and to those who want to hurt us, or who have hurt us in the past.
When we love with the love of Christ, we will be patient and kind with one another. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Love means that we will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things - for no other reason than that is exactly how God loves us.
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christ makes this divine love the unique mark of His disciples. This is how the world will recognize a disciple of Jesus, by the love shining through that person. Christian love is like the beam of light shining from a lighthouse, guiding the ships at sea out of the darkness into port.
And that kind of Love makes a difference in the world. The unbelieving world will sit up and take notice, just as the pagan Roman world could not help but notice how the first believers cared for one another, when they said, "See how they love one another!" The world saw the love of Christ through the love of Christians, and that is what drew them to the Church.
If Christians seems to have such little impact in today's world it is not for lack of words or books or advertising or communication. It is for lack of love. Without genuine Christian love for one another, no one will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, no matter what we say we believe. Love makes faith visible.
And so, we probably need to acknowledge that we have not always loved one another as Christ has loved us. We have sometimes let our own egos and prejudices and pride interfere with our love. We have not always let God's love have its way in our hearts, and so our love for others has failed. And sometimes our failure to love one another has turned people away and kept them from hearing the Gospel. We need to be truly sorry, and we need to do better. It might be in some simple way – a word, a kindly action, an act of generosity – but what a difference it might make. The Lord gives us His love, not so that we can keep it for ourselves – but so that we can love others, as He loves us.