Year C: Fifth Sunday of Easter
The New Commandment
John 13: 31-33a, 34-35
When Judas had left, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. [If God is glorified in him,] God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
- Have you tried to come to terms with the mystery of suffering? If so, what thoughts about the mystery of suffering give you the most comfort and satisfaction?
- Would you spare yourself the suffering you’ve experienced if you could? Why or why not?
- How would you describe a way Jesus has loved you? As Jesus’ disciple, how would you describe the way you are to love others? How are you doing?
- “They will know we are Christians by our love” is the ultimate statement of, or the tip-off that we are disciples of Jesus. Where have you seen or received this kind of love – recognizing Christian discipleship in another?
John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
In last Sunday’s reading from John’s Gospel John was insisting on Jesus’ divinity; not only is Jesus the messiah, but Jesus and the Father are one. In our reading today John is addressing the question, “If Jesus is truly divine, the Word incarnate, then why did he suffer the defeat of the cross?” Today we hear John teach that the cross is not a defeat but the occasion for Jesus’ glorification.
The setting for today’s reading is that of Judas’s betrayal and Jesus’ imminent crucifixion. This setting is established by the very first words: “When Judas had left them “This reminds us that immediately preceding today’s passage is Jesus’ announcement of Judas’s coming betrayal: “Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me— It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.’ So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas…” (John 13:21b, 26b). Judas has now left, and Jesus, who, in John’s Gospel, knows everything, knows that his crucifixion is imminent.
When Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him,” Jesus is teaching his disciples that his imminent crucifixion is not a defeat, but a victory. Through the crucifixion Jesus will be glorified, and the Father will be glorified. The passion and death will be Jesus’ glorification because Jesus is choosing to lay down his life as a free gift of love. Jesus is not simply dying. Jesus is returning to the Father, having done what he came to do: to be a revelation of the Father’s own love for Jesus and for us.
That the setting for Jesus’ words is his imminent death is again made clear when Jesus tells the disciples, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” Jesus knows that when he leaves this meal he will be crucified, the most ignominious death possible in the eyes of the disciples. But even death, death on a cross, cannot thwart Jesus’ accomplishing his Father’s will—the revelation of God’s love for God’s people. Both Jesus and his Father will be glorified at once.
Next Jesus tells his disciples that he is giving them a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Why is this a new commandment? After all, Deuteronomy has taught the Jews to love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their strength (Deut 6:5). Leviticus has taught them to love not only their neighbor but an alien, as themselves (Lev 19:34). Yet Jesus describes his commandment to love as a new commandment.
What is new about the commandment is that the disciples are to model their way of loving on Jesus himself: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” How has Jesus loved them? Jesus has loved them by freely laying down his life for them. It is to this kind of self-sacrificing love that Jesus is calling his disciples. In fact, their ability to love others as Jesus has loved them will be the sign through which people will recognize them as disciples of Jesus Christ: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As we read this passage during the Easter season we are celebrating Jesus’ and the Father’s glorification through Christ having been raised up—on the cross and through the resurrection. As the Father has loved Jesus, and the Father and Jesus have loved us, so we are to love loved Jesus, and the Father and one another.
Anne, my wife, has peppered our apartment with photographs of ourselves and all the people who are close to us. As I walk to the kitchen, I can see myself at about six months old sitting on my father’s lap and playing with his police hat. If my eyes stray while watching TV, I can see Anne and Gina, her daughter, looking very much like each other. If I cannot sleep at night, I can stare at the wedding picture of my parents. We also have a rogue’s gallery, a gauntlet of pictures hanging on parallel walls that will not let me pass through without stealing my attention. Although I may be alone in the apartment at times, one turn of my head reveals the captured past presence of significant others.
Of course, as I speed by, these intimate memories seem like bill-boards on the expressway. Even worse, I take the photos for granted. Everybody has photos; the frame business is booming. Do I pause to ponder the sofa? But then, for reasons that have always escaped me, one photo catches my eye and I find myself pondering it—smiling, or misty-eyed, or even outright laughing. If this happens, a hunger quickly follows and I move from picture to picture as if I have never seen them before. When I finish, I am stunned by the cumulative effect they have on me. I find myself filled with the love I have received.
And, not to put too fine an edge on it, I am a nicer person. I wouldn’t go all the way into saying I am a more “loving” person. But I am, in the immediate aftermath, friendlier, more patient, less self-absorbed, more at peace with the everyday tensions that rack me. I recommend picture-gazing as a spiritual practice.
There is also a cross in our apartment. I see it everyday and most often it receives the “speed by” treatment. But every so often I pause remembering my grandfather as he broke a cookie in half for both of us to eat, or my wedding day, or the double graduation of Chrissie and Robert. But I have a history with the cross.
I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood where the overriding theological story was a popularized version of St. John’s vision. The Son of God entered human life and died on the cross out of love for us. So, we should not be afraid of death, and we should learn to love another. For many years this rehearsed theology came to mind every time I looked at the cross. And in my neighborhood and school there were a lot of crosses to look at. But what is most important is that it sunk in. It is a memory that had and still has an effect. I try, as the title of the movie says, to Pay it Forward, to love others as I have been loved by Jesus.
Although the Jesus story can be simply told, my experience with it is more complex. The cross only has this influence with me because I belonged to a community and tradition that carried the memory of Jesus through time and space so I could receive it. But they did more than carry the memory. They tried to live the reality. When they went wrong, they confessed and began again. I heard and read the story at the same time as I watched and participated in the way of life the story encouraged. The community bridged the centuries from the time the text was written to the time it entered into my life.
John’s Gospel is very much concerned with bridging time. It does not eagerly hope for the parousia, the second coming of Christ. It settles down into the passage of time and wonders how to maintain the presence of Jesus on earth after he has returned to the Father. Christian tradition has followed this lead of the gospel and emphasized the presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament. But, most fundamentally, Christ continued through his new body, the church, the people who are imbued with his Spirit and remember his love as the ground and energy of their own love. To contact Christ we do not have to psychologically throw ourselves back into the time the scriptural text enshrines. We have to belong to the present community of disciples who remember and enact his love.
The fact is we need both the scriptural text and the community to remember the love of Jesus and to love another as he has loved us. This community is certainly the church community. But it also is wider. It is all the people in my pictures. If I only had the Jesus story and the church community, remembering Jesus’ love would be real but I suspect, it would be thin. If I only had the pictures, I would relish individual moments and people, but I would not know the depth and extent of their love. Remembering the love of Jesus so we can love one another as he has loved us takes a home where photos of family and friends stand side by side with the cross.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.