Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 19, 2019)
The time of the Gospel was the Last Supper, specifically, immediately after Judas had left the table to betray Jesus when he would go to the garden of Gethsemane. The end was near. Jesus had tried so hard to teach his disciples his message of love. This is his final effort with words, the next-to- last words of a man close to death.
Jesus says, “I will 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.”
The apostles still did not “get it.” Jesus spread the message of love and deeds of love that his father had chosen to deliver through him. The way that we humans learn to love is through a human person. The way that we learn to love deeply is to learn from a perfectly loving human: Jesus. Jesus was not only human; he was the archetype of humanity.
Now he was near the time of his death. Why did Jesus have to die the way that he did? How could our loving father decree that his beloved son would have to suffer so tortuously? The image of God as Father, “Abba,” does not suggest a vindictive, vengeful God who has to settle a score with Adam and Eve and their, therefore, sinful descendents.
As we heard in last Sunday’s first reading, that Jesus had to die because the leaders of his chosen people were jealous. As they said, “It is expedient that one man must die.” Their fear and anger prevailed. Their precious-to-them status quo had to remain, be maintained at any cost.
Why did Jesus call what he said “a new” commandment? The message of love had been proclaimed long before, in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. What Jesus was adding that was new was that our loving God first loved us; he showed his love in the person of Jesus, who was love enfleshed. Being the archetype of humanity included his archetypical loving.
Jesus showed in word and example, in confrontations with others, in the sickness and the death of others, in being rejected by those he came to serve, the loving message of his father. His father and Jesus continue to love us. And, he loved us first. We cannot love back without the love with which he embraces us. He loves us because that is his very nature. He cannot not love us.
He tells us that being loved will enable us to love everyone. Then, he tells us that folks we do not know, who are not his disciples will see us, will be drawn to us and through us, will be led to Jesus, to our God. This loving kingdom of God begins now – our future will not be some notion of “pie in the sky when you die.”
John tells us in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” That was surely one of John’s most revelatory, divinely inspired insights.
Jesus left the upper room for the garden of Gethsemane where Judas would betray him with a kiss, so ironically a symbol of love. Jesus will play out the unfair hand he was dealt. He will pray on the cross for those who failed, pleading their ignorance. And us. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. We “do” lovingly, forgivingly.