Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C Lectio divina on Jn 13, 31-33a.34-35
This gospel passage speaks of an exceptional moment in the life of Jesus. As his death was drawing near, Jesus revealed his last wish to his disciples – the commandment to love one another. Since he had little time left to spend with them, he limited himself to the bare essentials of what he wanted to say to them: the glory of God is linked to the glory of his Son, and this is achieved when Jesus’ disciples are recognised among people by the love they have for one another. On that last night of sharing and intimacy, Jesus said to his disciples that the world would come to know him as the Son of God, if they came to be recognised as his disciples. People would give glory to God, if the disciples were distinguished by their love for one another. These last words of Jesus should be for us, as they were for the first disciples, a source of consolation, and at the same time, a cause for concern.
31 When Judas had gone out (from the upper room), Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it
This text is a very short extract from Jesus’ long farewell discourse (Jn 13,1-14,31). To understand it, we need to keep in mind the context: the traitor had just left the upper room. The words now spoken by Jesus were addressed to his intimate disciples, who had not yet proved themselves faithful. Jesus confided three ideas: his hour of glory had come, his time to stay with them was short, and love for one another was obligatory. Each of these three ideas had separate consequences.
1. The hour of glory concerns Jesus and God, but not in the same way. The disciples were witnesses, at most. The Father’s task is to glorify the Son and to be glorified in him. The glory of both comes through death on the cross. The bloody death on the cross is here an “event” that touches God, and fills God with glory. What a strange way to see the cross!
2. The fact that Jesus’ stay with his disciples is drawing to an end means that they are soon to become orphans. The disciples who know that Jesus is going to die and be glorified will have to get used to living without him. This theme will be taken up again later. Here it is simply anticipated. Jesus’ glory requires the abandoning of his disciples. The glorified Jesus is the Jesus who leaves his disciples – this is a reality that is right at the heart of the paschal mystery.
3. Love is the task imposed on the disciples orphaned by Jesus. When he has abandoned them, they must love one another ¬(love the fellow disciple who feels lonely at the absence of Jesus) and love in the same measure that they have been loved (giving their life for the people they love). Brotherly love is the duty of all Christians who no longer share their life with the Lord. It is obligatory. In his absence they must love one another in the same way that Jesus loves them, by giving his life for them. The obligation is not limited to loving one another – it extends also to the way they must love. By commanding them to love one another, Jesus tells them whom they must love (his intimate friends who are now orphans), and the manner of their love (to the end, by giving one’s life).
II. Meditation: apply what the text is saying to life
As soon as the traitor had left the intimate circle, Jesus could disclose to those who remained faithful that his time had come and that it was necessary for him to leave them. The one who was to hand him over was not worthy to hear the reasons for his offering. The glory of God and the love of the disciples for one another become possible the moment he offers himself. God’s glory and the love of the disciples for one another coincide. God will be glorified… when Jesus dies! The disciples will be able to, and will be obliged to, love one another, to give their lives for one another, because Jesus has given his life out of love.
It must not be forgotten, if we do not want to weaken the commandment of mutual love, that Jesus entrusted this commandment to his intimate friends, to those who remained faithful to him to the end. He entrusted it to them when he had already been handed over by one of them and when he was getting ready to offer himself for all who would be his disciples. Only one who has loved to the end and made it possible can demand that his disciples love one another. Only one who has first been faithful to his Lord can try to love his brothers. The traitor was not able to love. He was unable give himself. Anyone who does not give Christ to others, will not be able to give himself to them in body and soul. The glory of God and brotherly love are not a matter of sentiment but an offering of one’s life. It is important to note that only his most intimate friends received the new commandment, those who kept vigil with him the night before he died, sharing the last meal and his last words spoken in confidence. Only the disciples who had the courage to stay with him when he was already being sought and had already been betrayed, were told that they were to love one another if they wanted to be recognized as his disciples. The evangelist notes that Judas, the traitor, was not with Jesus and it seems obvious to him that Jesus would have revealed his last wish only to those who remained faithful. Those who know Jesus’ last command can count themselves among his intimate followers. Knowing that they are to love one another means that they know they are his intimate friends. Only those who are loved by Jesus know that they must love their brothers. The commandment to love one another is the secret that Jesus reserves for those he loves.
We should not forget this. Instead of feeling frustrated at our inability to obey his commandment, and complaining about the impossible burden it imposes, we should be comforted by the knowledge that we are intimate friends of Jesus. If Jesus imposed this precept of brotherly love only on those who stayed with him that night, and if we know now that it applies to us, it means that we are more than just disciples, we are friends beloved by Jesus. Knowing that we are to love one another means that we know we are loved by Jesus. He gave us this commandment only after he had first given us his love and given his life as proof of his love. Jesus asks of us only what he has given us.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you. Jesus asks of us only what he has made possible. If he asks us to love one another, it is because he has already loved us. He makes demands of us because he loves us with a special love. He commands us to love one another, because he loves us. The proof that he loves us is that he obliges us to love one another. It is true that he could have chosen another way to show his love, that might have been a bit less painful and a bit more pleasing for us, but the one who loves first is the one who chooses the manner and the object of his love. Instead of complaining about being loved, let us think about doing his will. It is no mere coincidence that the more we find it impossible to really love others, the less we feel loved by God.
Christians should not deceive themselves into thinking they can become intimate with God if they do not make an effort to love their neighbour. If we don’t feel that God loves us, and if we do not sense his caring presence, it is not because he no longer loves us, but because we have stopped loving others and no longer want to care for them. It will be hard for us to feel the love that God has for us, if we are not committed to loving one another, as he has commanded us. We should not expect that God love us, when we do not accede to his request to love one another. The love that God has for us is gratuitous, freely given, but this does not mean that it has no consequences. Only those who try to love their brothers will feel that they are loved by God. Love for our neigbour is the counterpart, the obligation to be fulfilled, in order to experience the love that God has for us. The fact that it is so difficult, does not excuse us. It cost much more for God to love us – he had to give his only Son for us.
It is possible for us, then, to know that we are intimate friends of Jesus. Love for one another is the way we must go to obtain the love of God. It continues to be our comfort, even if it is extremely difficult. But on it depends whether or not God is known and glorified! Love for one another is the sign that Jesus chose to leave to the world before his departure. The proof that he still loves us is that, even in his absence, he wants us to love one another. He gave it as a commandment to his disciples when he was leaving the world. The fact that he left us with the obligation to love one another is the best proof that he did not wish to abandon us. Love for one another is something rare in our world, so rare that it becomes impossible to believe, but it is the best proof that God still cares for his people. Who but God could compel us to love one another? We should be struck by the fact that people’s ability to glorify God depends on our ability to love one another. The sign that Jesus has left for people to know God depends on our effort to love one another – nothing more, nothing less!
Instead of lamenting the state of the world, it would be better if we were to pay heed to today’s passage of the Gospel. The ignorance of God in the world is not caused by those who do not know him, and if God is not adored, it is not because of those who do not frequent the places of worship. Atheists do not deny God. It is not the people who never had any interest in God who forget him. The problem is with us who say we are disciples of Jesus but do not obey him, because we do not love one another. We live thoughtless lives, not caring whether or not we are recognized as his disciples, and so we do not make an effort to love one another as he loved us, and as he commanded us. Have we ever really thought seriously about this?
If we go through life unnoticed, because we live just like everybody else, ignoring in our hearts what we have heard from his lips, then God too will be unnoticed in our world. If we, the disciples of Christ, do not try to love one another, who will give glory to God? Precisely because it is unusual, and goes against what we see every day, love for our brother is proof of the triumph of the love of God. Where there is someone who truly loves, Christ has not died in vain, and God is being glorified. God’s glory is revealed, better than in the most beautiful dawn, in the life of a Christian who gives himself or herself in love for others.
If indeed God still speaks to us, if we are still interested in making God known, if we are concerned that God is being forgotten, then we need to do something. Let’s try today what in the past we may have thought useless or impossible – to judge kindly, to appreciate better, to love more those with whom we share our faith and the love of Christ. When others see that we really love one another, they will come to realize that only God could have worked that miracle. They will know that God still loves his people, when they see the efforts we make to love one another. It depends on us whether or not God is glorified.