John describes the Last Supper by dividing the events there into two parts. At the start of the meal Jesus does something very unexpected: he washes the feet of his disciples, and then predicts his forthcoming betrayal and death.
The second part of the supper consists of long conversations with his disciples on the meaning of love, of union with him (as the vine with its branches,) on the place of the Father in his life, and of the coming of the Spirit.
Were these long discourses all delivered there and then? Probably not, but their context is one of a ‘farewell’, things said which are meant to be treasured after one has departed.
The conversation begins with Jesus’s command to his disciples “to love one another, as I have loved you.” This is to be the distinguishing mark of all Jesus’s disciples. The love of one’s neighbour is indeed found in the Old Testament, but what makes it a “new commandment”, as Jesus terms it, is that this love is to be extended to all men and women, it is all-inclusive, no one is to be left out.
There’s another interesting detail about this love. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples, “Love me as I have loved you.” Most of us look for a return of love from those whom we love. We are even taught in the catechism that we should love God as God loves us.
Not so with Jesus. The test of discipleship according to Jesus, is to love others, as he loves us. Jesus becomes both the model and the motivation of our love. It’s a love which will even give its life for the sake of the loved one, as Jesus will. This is what discipleship, the following of Jesus, means.
Jesus is aware that his disciples cannot follow him in this ultimate sacrifice right now, even though, like Peter, they think they can. But one day, energized by the Spirit, they will. It is the love of Jesus for all men and women, as lived by his disciples, which has transformed the world.