"Life is not so much beginnings and endings as it is middles, middles that don't measure up -- and our happiness depends on how we come to terms with the pale reflections of our dreams. (Paul D. Zimmerman, "Middles and Muddles," review of film "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Newsweek, September 27, 1971, 106)

Gospel for Fifth Sunday of Easter (24 April 2016)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
JGospel

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

This text follows on John’s account of the Last Supper. More particularly, it follows immediately on the exchange between Jesus and Judas which concludes with the statement: “It was night”.

John 13:31 marks the beginning of the section of John’s Gospel often referred to as the Farewell Discourses (13:31-14:31). The departure of Judas has been something of a turning point. Jesus now turns to address the disciples who will stay with him.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed in relation to the Father – “God loved the world so much he gave his only Son” (3:16); “my food is to do the will of the one who sent me” (4:34 – see also 17:18 & 20:21); “no one can come to the Father except through me; if you know me you know the Father too” (14:6); “To have seen me is to have seen the Father” (14:9); “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” (14:23); “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine dresser” (15:1).

Central to this intimacy between Jesus and the Father is Jesus’ revelation of the glory of the Father. See for example: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14); “‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (17:1-5). Jesus’ miracles are all “signs” of the Father’s glory.

Our Gospel text today re-iterates this and points to the Cross: “.... God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” Pheme Perkins writes: “The plot of the Gospel is focused on the ‘hour’ of Jesus’ glorification, his return to the Father at the crucifixion.” (“The Gospel According to John” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E Brown, Joseph A Fitzmyer and Roland E Murphy, Geoffrey Chapman, 1968/1990, 61:14, 947.)

The “new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you” makes sense – and only makes sense – in the light of the foregoing. The disciples are those who share in the mission and the revelation of the glory of the Father.

Reflection

On Monday we celebrate Anzac Day. Are we celebrating “the glory of war”? War is hell actually, you do not celebrate that. Are we celebrating death? Anyone who has lost loved ones in war will tell you their death is nothing to celebrate. But we will celebrate. And we will do that for a number of good personal and communal reasons – because we honour those who died, because we are grateful for the bravery and the sacrifice of so many, because we pray for reconciliation and peace among nations. People who misunderstand this event, may criticize the celebration and those who celebrate.

Christianity celebrates the Cross of Jesus Christ. Why do we celebrate the Cross? The first disciples did not celebrate when they witnessed Jesus’ ignominious crucifixion. They did not think of that day as Good Friday. Some modern theologians have reduced the Cross to a mere consequence of Jesus being a human being (eg he was a scapegoat) or an individual caught up in the religious and cultural politics of his day. All human beings must die, Jesus died that way. According to these writers there is no special power or significance in the Cross. Why celebrate the Cross therefore?

The renowned theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, represents the testimony of the Gospels and the Christian tradition when he writes: “Theologia crucis is not a single chapter in theology, but the key signature for all Christian theology.” (Cited by Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World, Fortress Press, 2003, 1.) Hans Kung agrees: “The cross is not only example and model, but ground, power and norm of the Christian faith.” (Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, Doubleday, 1976, 410). Kung expands on this elsewhere, confirming what many other theologians have said. “The cross,” he writes, “is the element which radically distinguishes Christian faith and the Lord who is the object of this faith from other religions and their gods.” (Hans Kung, "What is the Christian Message?" in The Catholic Mind, 68 (December 1970), 32).

John’s Gospel speaks of the Cross as Jesus’ ‘exaltation’ and ‘glorification’. The glory of God shines brilliantly and triumphantly through this moment. This is the victory over sin and death. In the Cross is our freedom.

The Cross has daily practical significance too. The Cross is the great destroyer of idols and we are all expert idol-makers. Take your thinking, expectations, assumptions and fears to the foot of the Cross and see what happens. Michael Leunig reminds us in his own distinctive way: “That which is Christ-like within us shall be crucified. It shall suffer and be broken. And that which is Christ-like within us shall rise up. It shall love and create.” (Michael Leunig, When I Talk to You, Harper Collins, 2014.)