Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (19 May 2019)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
When (Judas) 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).
“As the first events in the Johannine account of Jesus’ final night with his disciples began (vv. 1–5), three themes emerged: the arrival of “the hour” (v. 1), Jesus’ love for his own no matter how sinful they might be (vv. 1–3), and Jesus’ bringing his task to a perfect end by means of a consummate act of love (v. 1). At the conclusion of this account one of those themes returned: Jesus’ love for his own (vv. 34–35) no matter how frail they might be (vv. 36–38).
Another theme is added: the glorification of Jesus and the revelation of the glory of God (vv. 31–32). This theme was also found at the center of the passage, in Jesus’ claim that his disciples would come to recognize him as the unique revelation of God in and through events that lie in the near future (v. 19). John 13:1–38 is a description of the glory shown by unconditional love, and Jesus asks that his disciples live and love in imitation of him. This is the example (v. 15), the new commandment (vv. 34–35) he gives to them. The example and the new commandment coalesce.
“Many themes adumbrated during the ministry have now come to the fore: the frailty of the disciples (cf. 1:35–49; 4:27–38; 6:1–15, 60–71; 9:1–5; 11:5–16), the betrayal of Judas (cf. 6:70–71; 12:4–6), the denials of Peter (cf. 1:40–42; 6:67–69), the departure of Jesus (cf. 7:33–34; 8:21), the impossibility of following him to the Father ‘now’ (cf. 7:33–34), an oncoming event that will transform the lack of knowledge and faith ‘now’ into an ‘afterward’ when disciples will know and will follow (cf. 2:22; 12:16), the knowledge of Jesus (cf. 2:24–25; 4:1; 5:42; 6:15; 10:14–15), his love for his own (cf. 3:16–17, 34–35), the cross as the moment of Jesus’ glorification (cf. 1:51; 11:4; 12:23, 33), and the revelation of God in and through the event of the cross (3:13–14; 8:28; 12:23, 32–33). Puzzles produced by the story of Jesus’ public ministry converge, and in this sense 13:1–38 introduces the reader to 14:1–20:31” (Francis J Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press 1998, 387).
When (Judas) had gone out: Our Gospel text for today 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 13:30). John 13:31 thus 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. There is an urgency about the moment. “Now the departure of Judas puts the actual machinery of arrest, trial and execution into motion” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 482).
glorified: The verb doxazō is used five times here. Central to John’s narrative on the Incarnation, is this theme of “glory”. 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.)
love: The verb agapao is used four times here. This is the highest form of love in the Christian Scriptures. There is a moral vision here, but it is underpinned by a mystical vision. The love John speaks of is an expression of the life of God. Our “abiding in him” (see for example 15:1-19) means that we too can “love”. That is, it is our communion with God that enables us to fulfil this commandment – “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. The amazing beauty and wonder of this love is that it comes not as conquest of will but as gift of grace.
The text immediately preceding today’s Gospel is John’s account of the Last Supper. He ends it in the following terse way: “So, after receiving the piece of bread, (Judas) immediately went out. And it was night” (13:29-30). Today’s Gospel begins in a chillingly dark moment. But the words of Jesus are anything but chilling or dark: “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him”. In John’s Gospel, there is nothing to manifest the glory of God quite like the Cross. It is here, in this extreme human experience, that the glory of God is made visible. Everything in us cries out, “No!”. Our inclination is to say that this event manifests only the barbarism of human beings. Surely there is nothing redemptive whatever about this cruel act of violence on an innocent man? He is just a scapegoat!
Hold that tension. It is from that place of tension – and only from that place of tension – that we will begin to understand the radical truth of the command that follows: “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” (13:34-35). We are given further insight into this command and its link with the Cross two chapters later: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). One scholar writes: “We must purify the completely human concepts we have made about love, in order to grasp the mystery of divine love – and this takes place through the cross” (Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Xavier Léon-Dufour SJ, London, Geoffrey Chapman, 1972, 283).
What Jesus calls love is best defined by its ultimate expression, in his total gift of self on the Cross. The Cross is both the measure and the source of love (agape). What is on offer in the Incarnation – in Jesus who is the Anointed One – is the gift of the Divine Self. Which in turn speaks volumes about human nature: We are made in the image and likeness of this love-you-unto-death Divine Self. Self-giving – self-emptying (kenosis) as St Paul calls it in his letter to the community in Philippi (2:7) – is part of God’s very nature, it is also part of ours. It defines God as revealed in Jesus. It also defines us, as revealed in our best possibilities. This is actually very uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, we actually spend a good deal of effort avoiding our potential for love (agape).
Mother Teresa of Calcutta describes in one of her letters this strange contradiction of love that she experienced within herself: “To be in love & yet not to love, to live by faith and yet not to believe. To spend myself and yet to be in total darkness” (Letter of 17 May 1964, cited by Paul Murray, I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta – a Secret Revealed, Brewster Ma: Paraclete Press, 2011, 31).