The New Word from the Living Word: The New Commandment as the Living Word Statement of Life in the Spirit – the Whitsun theme shared by Rev. Michaël Merle
Report by John-Peter Gernaat
We come to an idea in the New Testament that we can have a sense that Christ came to fulfil and complete the law and the Prophets. We notice in the Gospels that the writers repeatedly write “and this fulfilled the prophecy …”; “and so the words of the Prophet were fulfilled”. This is because the Gospel writers wished to clarify that in the incarnation of Christ in the person of Jesus, all of the prophecies are now fulfilled. There is no more fulfilment after this. Anything that happens after the Mystery of Golgotha is connected to the Mystery of Golgotha and is a part of it. Everything flows from there. There are no new prophecies that are to come.
This is interesting when, for example, we consider the Book of Revelation. It reveals something, it is a revelation, it is not a prophecy that one is anticipating, rather one is living through it, we are in the stream already. Christ did not come to abolish the law but rather to fulfil it so that it could continue, but now in a new way. This is very clear from the transfiguration. Peter, James and John accompany Christ to the top of a mountain and when the transfiguration happens, they recognise that Christ is in conversation with Moses and Elijah. He is in conversation with the law and the prophets. The law and the prophets are not absent from the conversation, rather the conversation is ongoing.
What is remarkable is the arrival of what we often referred to as the New Commandment. The gospels were originally written in what we today call Koine Greek, and what happened was when they were translated into Latin the word that was used was translated as ‘mandātum’. This word would then give us in English the word mandate. ‘Mandate’ would be a far better word than the word ‘commandment’. We now need to clearly understand what the word mandate means. If someone is in a position of authority and they wish to have a task completed, they can delegate the task. However, the person cannot delegate the authority that he or she carries. If the person, in contrast, mandated someone to take charge of the task, they would mandate them to take the full authority for the outcome of the task as well.
When Christ speaks this New Commandment it is the moment in which an inner reality begins for the disciples where they are now starting to take on a sense of themselves as apostles. They are now no longer followers but rather people who are sent out with something that they must accomplish together with the responsibility to accomplish it. For the disciples this does not become a reality until Whitsun. Until Whitsun they locked themselves away from society, afraid of the consequences that they may have to face. Then, when the Spirit comes, they are no longer afraid, they now are able to go out and fulfil that mandate. We hear something of this mandate from the gospel reading from John 14. “These things that I have spoken unto you while I was still with you, but the paraclete, the counsellor, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things that bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. If a person loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Revised Standard Version)
What is this living word, this logos, how is it going to manifest itself? When we then turn to chapter 15, still part of the Last Supper, we hear: “This is my commandment (this is my mandate), that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no person than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do as I command you (as I mandate you - would be a better translation).” Then He uses the example that they, the disciples, are now his friends they are no longer servants. We could also read this as saying that they are now no longer his followers, but rather his coworkers. They are now colleagues in this task of loving one another as “I have loved you”.
Previously we've read in the gospels that the law had already been summarised into two ‘commandments’: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.” This is a pretty good picture of what the human being should be, based on the Ten Utterances which we studied during the period of Ascension. If one is able to follow this picture of the Ten Utterances one is able to show the kind of respect for one's neighbour that one feels for oneself. In this way one is caring for the neighbour in the same way that one cares for the picture one holds of oneself.
When Christ gives the New Commandment something shifts. The neighbour is someone that the person knows, someone from the house next door, the immediate environment, the town. Christ says: “love one another”. Now one is no longer dealing with the neighbour who lives next door, but dealing as one individual with another individual in the same community. “Love one another” implies that we know one another, that we are from the same circle. These are words that are not reserved only for those who gather in a circle and call themselves Christians, but rather love all other human beings. This now established as the human community rather than a particular grouping of people, a tribe, a nation, a religious following; moving away from something that is insular to something that is universal. This is the first thing about the change from ‘neighbour’ to ‘one another’. And then, not as you love yourself, but, as “I have loved you”. The extraordinary thing about this second part of the ‘commandment’ is that we now have the capacity to love in the way that Christ has loved us. The disciples, at that point in time would have felt within themselves, the complete incapacity to love anyone in the way that Christ had loved them, even the struggle of loving a neighbour as one loves oneself is difficult, but here Christ says to them that they need not fear or have doubt because He will ask the Father to send the paraclete, to send the Spirit, for what they cannot do on their own, they will be able to do with the Spirit within, if they work with the Spirit.
We were reminded on the day when this talk was given, which was Whitsun, that this is ours to do. We are not able to do this on our own, but it is our responsibility to do. This means that it is our responsibility to learn to work with the Spirit in us. We have to learn to work with what the Spirit births in us, which is the presence of Christ in us. It is now possible, from this source to love the another as Christ has loved us; to go beyond loving the other, based on our understanding of ourselves, and to begin to love the other in the way that God loves, in the way that God sees, and the way in which God understands, which is always to see the unfolding human being, and not the stuck human being whom we happen to see in front of us. It is for us to see the potential that is always at work in the other person. This is incredibly difficult to do because it's very easy for us to notice the stuck human being, and overlook the developing potential within the other human being. God loves, not what we are doing, but what we are becoming.
In the conversation that followed this lecture, Rev. Reingard Knausenberger explained that so much of what present-day life offers us is there to prepare us for this future. She proposed two examples: the first that those who work with children do not look at the child as who they currently are, but all the time at what they are going to become. The second example is specific to South Africa, where there are so many different mother tongues. Many people resort to speaking English to be understood, and yet the English that they speak is coloured by their mother tongue, with the result that we learn to listen, not to what they say, but to what they mean. And we do this by listening, one could say, in between. Both of these are preparing within us the capacity to see the other person for who they are becoming. The Act of Consecration of Man offers us the ‘high school’ of listening.
The Koine Greek word ἐντολή, entolē (pronounced en-tol-ay') is the word used by the Gospel writers that is translated as ‘commandment’. The translators were bound to the idea of instructions and commands. So when, in John 15, they read: “This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you”. Earlier the Gospel writer says: “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love”, providing a strong sense of ‘commandments’. So, what is this word: entolē? It literally means ‘in the end’. Therefore, this is not a commandment, it is a picture of what is to be, in the end. This is the goal, the purpose, the focus. “This is my focus, my goal, my purpose that you love one another as I have loved you”.
This presents a very different concept because, unlike a commandment which one is supposed to understand immediately, there is no requirement here to immediately understand what Christ means. It is not something that Christ expects us to get right immediately, we can strive towards getting it right daily. If one does not get it right, it is because we are not yet at the end point, we are still in process of discovering what it is. Then everything changes: (We will now replace ‘commandment’ with ‘goal’) “If you keep my goal, you will abide in my love just as I have kept my Father's goal and abide in his love.” We can translate this as meaning, “I have kept that which my Father intended from the beginning”. This is something that is really important in understanding spiritual evolution, we can see it in physical evolution, that things do not happen by accident, there is a purpose.
(In a talk given the previous Friday evening at the Anthroposophical Society, Michaël spoke for quite a while about how today in science bipedalism is recognised as the first sign of human evolution. When Dr Rudolf Steiner first mentioned this the picture that science had of the human being was very different, and they could not recognise what Rudolf Steiner said. It shows us how there was a goal from the very beginning that we recognise in that which is produced at the end. Bipedalism gave the human being a completely new perspective; it gave us an upright spine with a different view of the world, being able to look out over the horizon; it lifted our head which meant that we could turn to look upwards. It also freed up our hands which now could be turned towards anything, including toolmaking, so that the human being could become even more specific in certain directions.)
It's therefore important to understand that from the beginning of our evolution, also our spiritual evolution, the course was set, with an end, one could say, but an end that is not the end, it is the end of a specific development and then something new opens up: “And now I make all things new”. We get to what we think is the end, we finally complete everything that is part of the process that we are in, and then we start a new process with a new goal and a new endpoint and a new task.
There is an end point for this earth evolution, the goal is set, the goal is “love one another, as I have loved you”. Therefore, if we are not yet loving one another, it is because the goal has not yet been reached. It is the goal of the unfolding of being fully human.
In the discussion that followed Rev. Reingard Knausenberger pointed out that love is a life creating force. She said this at hand of the private letters of Mother Theresa, written to her confessor, that were published in which she described the inner struggles she daily had to transcend to do the life-giving work that she accomplished. Christianity is the only religious stream that has a goal, from the beginning on. Our Sunday Service for Children instills in children the certainty that there is a purpose. Children who attend this service regularly walk out into the world knowing there is a purpose.
Michaël returned to the reading in John 14: “if anyone loves me, he will keep my word” is the usual translation, but what is it to ‘keep the logos’. The logos is the whole living, creative spirit and expression of Christ. The word ‘keep’ is not sufficient, it also means to ‘guard’. We can see this word ‘guard’ as implying ‘guardianship’. If we are given guardianship of a child, we have an understanding of what the responsibility is that we take on. The guardianship includes ensuring the growth and development of that over which we have guardianship. “If anyone loves me, they will take on guardianship of all of my creative, living, divine spirit - the expression of Divinity, my Father will love him, and we will come to him and to make our dwelling place within him.” The life of the Divine will be in the human being, and the human being in fullness of love will express the full creative, living spirit of God. That is the goal, that is the picture of where we are heading. This is what it means that there will be a preservation of the human being. This picture will be preserved, cared for; it will remain the picture, we will not lose sight of it, it must continue, the continuance of the human being, to what end, to this end, in love.
As said earlier, when we become coworkers it means that we become elevated to the level of the hierarchies. We are not there yet, but this is a part of the picture that the Christ gives to the disciples in this ‘New Commandment’. We are reminded, in the Sunday Service for Children, that “Christ is the teacher of the love of the human being”.
We will again look closely at the translation of words from Koine Greek. There are two words in Greek that predate the Gospels. The Gospels themselves, and our understanding of the Gospels, and our study of the Divine, has changed the way in which we see these words. We are looking at two lines from John 15: “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you, greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And then He says: “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends”.
“This is what will be for you in the end that you love one another as I have loved you”. It is not insignificant that the word is used in the past tense, ‘have loved’, because we are not just talking about the love that God has for the human being, but we are talking about the love that God has inspired in the human being. This is the love of the earthly experience of the Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. This is Jesus of Nazareth having learned to love through the indwelling Christ. “This is the love that I have had for you for the past three years and it is a love that you can also have as human beings.”
The Koine Greek word ‘agapē’ (αγάπη) was used before it was taken into the context of these Gospel verses. We've come to understand it as meaning the love of Christ, the love of God inspired in the human being, but it actually wasn't used for the love of the Divine by the Classical Greek scholars. They used it mainly to denote the love of learning and reason. They used it to speak of a love that is discriminating in its affection and involves choice and selection. This was not a love that came out of any necessity, unlike for example the love that a parent provides for a child, which is a necessity. This had to do with making a choice and then wishing well for the other, having a regard for their welfare. The choice was entirely up to the person; there was no necessity to make this choice, to have a regard for the welfare of the other. It is clear that there was no preexisting relationship in this choice. That is why there were other words for the love of family and the love of friends, this love was unattached and came from a choice that one made. The correct translation would be, ‘to prefer to love’, ‘to choose to love’, ‘to discriminate affection for another’. It is a choice, it is not something that one is compelled to do, and one is not going to gain anything directly from it. It also has something to do with longing, a longing for something. Therefore, one would use it to describe the love one has for reason, for knowledge, because one longed to acquire it, to acquire ever more of it. It is therefore quite an extraordinary word to use. We now use it exclusively to describe the love of God and the love God has for us, but this world was very much a part of the idea of a decision to love.
We can therefore translate: “This is my end goal picture that you choose to love one another as I have chosen to love you”.
Then, “greater love has no human being then that he lay down his life for his friends”. The immediate thought here would be that the greatest love is to die for a friend, to lay down one's life. This is what Christ did, he laid down his life, he died on the cross. As Christians we have often abused this idea in thinking that it is good to die for one's community, for one's country. This is absolutely not what the original said. The Koine Greek word is ‘tithami’, which means to lay down a foundation, not to lay down but to place or put something in place, to establish, to make possible, to create a place for the realisation of one's purpose. Therefore, the correct translation would be: “no greater love has a human being than to lay down a foundation, create a place through his life, so that his friends will know life and love”. It therefore has nothing to do with dying for one's friends but rather to dedicate one's life in service to one's friends. What one is doing is placing one's life as an opportunity for a destiny for others so that they come to realise something, because my life is in service of your life, it is now set as a foundation so that you too can live. In this way what I do supports the life of those around me and what those around me do supports my life, hence we are in a new relationship.
The discussion that ensued questioned whether the Father and whether Christ make a conscious choice to love. This idea is anathema to the Christian upbringing of many people who were taught that the love of the Father is unconditional. The Divine made a choice to incarnate into the earthly world of separation from the Divine world. In this condition of separation, the Divine experienced a new capacity for love that is based on conscious decision. This experience had not existed for the Divine before Christ incarnated into the man Jesus. It is at the end of the three-year fulfilment of the Mystery of Golgotha that Christ can give this new mandate to the disciples because it is based on the experience that the Divine has encountered in the physical incarnation. Christ took the love of the Father into the earthly condition, and it was on the cross that Christ said: “It is accomplished”. The expression in the past tense was reiterated as being meaningful as Christ wished it to be clear that he had loved, not as a heavenly being, but as a transformed earthly being.
In a discussion on what love is we were reminded that Rudolf Steiner said that the earth was created so that the human being could learn the lesson of love. This is a lesson that we truly have to learn. If this is the aim of the earth, then it stands to reason that this quality of love is not as omnipresent as we may believe. The end goal is for this cosmos to be a cosmos of love in a renewed form that arises through the decision of conscious humanity. Love is being created in a new form and it is this that is the goal of which Christ spoke to his disciples.
The series ended with a complete translation of the words that Christ spoke:
“This is the picture that must be fulfilled in the end, that you make a preference to love one another as I have preferred to love you. Greater love has no human being than that the human being commits his life for his friends.”
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