Many, many years ago I learned that there are in fact two different commandments of love in the Gospels. One does not exclude the other, but they are different. The first appears in various forms but perhaps the most quoted one is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; cf. Mark 12:31 and Luke 10:27). The second is spoken by our Lord within the context of the Last Supper Discourse in the Gospel of St. John and reads, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (John 15:12).
The first commandment is a general one and can invite some discussion about who our neighbor is, as it did when our Lord taught it (Luke 10:29). The second commandment is a particular one, addressed to our Lord’s closest followers at the Last Supper. The first commandment is frankly applicable to anyone who wishes to live a good life, in harmony with one’s neighbor, at peace with everyone. The second, however, can be lived only by the true follower of Christ who is called to imitate Him in every way.
And how has our Lord loved us? If we are to love one another as He has loved us, then we need to know. He has loved us to the cross. This is His love. The crucifix is a constant reminder of that love. It is a sacrificial love that gives everything and holds back on nothing. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). This is Christian love, total, complete and sacrificial.