Fifth Sunday of Easter - Year C
Gospel: John 13:31-35When Judas had gone Jesus said:'Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified.If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself,and will glorify him very soon.'My little children, I shall not be with you much longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another.By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.'
The Gospel makes a curious connection between the betrayal of Judas, the glory of God and the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us. What is the connection? The love that Jesus bears for each one of us is the same love that he bore for Judas. We all have a Judas inside us, but Jesus nevertheless loves us completely and unconditionally. It is this love for undeserving people that represents the glory of God. What do we think of when we hear about the glory of God? Splendour? Majesty? Power? The glory of God is his immense and undying love for the very creatures who betray him. Jesus then gives the disciples a new commandment – to love one another as he has loved us. This is very different to the old commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves. The old commandment makes our love for ourselves the model and criterion for the greatest love. The new commandment makes Jesus the model of love. This is what marks the Christian out from everyone else. The Christian is not someone who follows a human code of ethical principles. He is not someone whose behaviour is derived from his own capacities or wonderful powers of evangelisation. The Christian is a disciple, someone who loves in the very same way that he has been loved by his master.
What is the connection between the glory of God and the betrayal of Judas?
Once again, this Sunday’s Gospel is brief, dense, and marvellous in content! Judas leaves the Upper Room and Jesus immediately begins a discourse on glory. “Now has the Son of Man been glorified . . .” What is the connection between the glory of Jesus and Judas? We discover this when we read the full passage and hear Jesus’ description of the kind of love that he bears for us. The passage on love must be read attentively, not carelessly with the presumption that we have heard it all before and know exactly what it means.
The glory of Jesus is best understood when the behaviour of Jesus is seen in the light of the betrayal of Judas. Jesus has just washed the feet of Judas. He has fed Judas with the bread of the Last Supper. Jesus has given himself totally to the very man who is betraying him. And Jesus is fully aware of what Judas is doing and why he has left the Upper Room. In fact Jesus invites Judas to go ahead and freely pursue his design. He does not try to obstruct Judas from carrying out his plan, because Jesus knows that in the end everything happens in the light of the mysterious plan of God.
The glory of God must be manifested, and very soon, according to this passage. What is the glory of God? A sensational display of lights, sounds and movement? No. The glory of God is his love for his enemies. This is why the Church is careful to include in Sunday’s Gospel reading the line about Judas leaving the room. God generously loves the man who leads him to the slaughter. And the betrayal is all the more painful because it is done with a kiss, the sign of friendship. Jesus continues to love the one who treats him in such an underhand way, who chillingly sends him to his death for monetary gain. At the Last Supper Jesus declared that one of the disciples would betray him. All replied in turn, “Surely not I, Lord?” This is a question that each of us must ask ourselves because we all have a Judas inside us. We all test the lengths to which the love of God will go for each one of us. All of us make our selfish plans, as Judas did, and we “sell” the very things that belong to God for material gain.
The new commandment of love is strikingly different from the older version
It is in the light of the Lord’s benevolence towards Judas (and to each of us) that Jesus speaks of his glory. Then he gives them a new commandment: “Love one another just as I have loved you”. It is important to distinguish this from the old commandment of love that is found in the Old Testament: “You must love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Jesus is asking us to love each other, not as we love ourselves, but as Jesus loves us. The critical criterion of love is not found in ourselves but in Jesus. When the Passion of Jesus is complete and the disciples have had time to look back on events, they will realize that all of them have abandoned him. They will realize that each one of them, like Judas, has been loved by Jesus despite the fact that they are undeserving of it. Just what exactly is this Easter season that we are celebrating right now? It is the passage from an existence based on our miserable things to the things that are of God; the passage from a life centred on ourselves to a life centred on Him. It is an entry into love and into the glory of God; a state of being in which we forget ourselves and fall in love with the One who has given everything for us. The criterion for love is to love as Jesus loved us. How many people delude themselves into thinking that love derives from their own strength of will! They think that love originates in their own capacities, and that it is based on particular individual characteristics. A “love” that originates in ourselves will never take us beyond ourselves. We will remain trapped in that closed circle of self-interest that does not take us anywhere. But when someone shatters this closed circle, erupting into our lives and loving us in a way that we would never have imagined, then we too become capable of a greater kind of love. It is Christ who loves in us, once we have been invaded by his love. The Lord does not expect us to be able to do things as he has done them. Ours is a love in response to his. If we stand in a valley and shout aloud, we hear our cry echoing back to us. What is it that returns to us? The sound of our own voice. This is what God does in us. He loves us, and we are like a valley, poor and empty, but that is capable of echoing His love.
The disciples of Jesus are recognizable, not by their wonderful integrity and personal talents, but because they love others as Jesus loved them
“By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples”. The disciples of Jesus are recognized, not by their great personal capacities, nor by the fact that they are wonderful, exceptional people. They are recognized as belonging to him. There is a world of difference here. Being a true disciple of Jesus does not consist in remarkable powers of evangelisation. If we met someone with such remarkable powers, we would be inclined to say, “Wow, what great talent you have for spreading the Gospel!” But this great ability of the other person to spread the Gospel would remain something external to me. If, instead, I see God working in the other person (rather than the other person relying on his own remarkable capacities), then this suddenly becomes extremely relevant to me. Perhaps God can also work in me as he is doing through this other person? The point is that true Christians are distinguished, not by their personal capacities, but by the fact that they are disciples of Jesus, loving each other in the way that He loved them.
When we see people loving each other selflessly and forgiving each other, then we see the Church of Christ manifesting itself. The Church is not a group of people who follow a moral code and make a concerted effort to love each other, or to do good things. Rather, what they are people who have shifted the centre of gravity of their lives away from themselves and their own efforts. They are not preoccupied with the defence of themselves, because their lives have already been defended by Someone else. The things we do in our daily lives (even those of us who are in the clergy) can all be acts that are perfectly praiseworthy and right, and yet be totally self-referential. The true disciple is one whose actions are totally in reference to Christ. True humility is a mark of such action and is a beautiful thing to see. We see it in the Holy Father and it lifts our spirits immediately. We are consoled when we meet people whose centre of reference is in the Lord and who feel no need to defend themselves. It is edifying to see a disciple in action, a person who loves, not because he has gritted his teeth and decided that he is going to make the great effort to love, but because he feels he cannot do other than love in response to the way that he has been loved.
Beautiful liturgies and well-organised parishes are meaningless if we do not manifest the love of Jesus in our daily lives
“Love one another as I have loved you”. At the end of the day, either we are engaged in a life of love, or we are at nothing. If our lives are not based on Christian love, on love that speaks of Christ, on love that makes present the glory of Christ, on love that is directed towards those who do evil towards us and that speak badly of us, on love that is directed towards those who betray us and make us suffer, then our efforts will come to nothing. We can have all the beautiful liturgical celebrations that we like; we can put on great courses of catechesis that attract huge numbers of people; we can have our ecclesial structures and committees organised brilliantly; but all is nothing unless the love of Christ is manifest in us, a love that is not held back even from our enemies. In other religions we often find elements that are worthy of praise. But it is rare to find the exhortation to love one’s enemies. Sadly, it is rare enough to find true love of one’s enemies inside the Church. This is the truly unique mark of Christianity.