5th Sunday of Easter – Year C
John 13: 31-35
For us, the heirs of the Greek thought, glorification is the achievement of the approval and the praise of people. It is equivalent to fame, obtained by whoever reaches a prestigious position. All desire it, crave for and fight for it and that is why we turn away from God. The Jews who “seek praise from one another, instead of seeking the glory which comes from the only God” (Jn 5:44), who “preferred the favorable opinion of people, rather than God’s approval” (Jn 12:43) cannot believe in Jesus in whom the “glory” that attracts the eyes and the attention of people is not manifested. In him, the glory of God becomes visible since its first appearance in the world: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; and we have seen his glory” (Jn 1:14).
God is glorified when he deploys his force and performs deeds of salvation when he shows his love for people. In the Old Testament, his glory was manifested when he freed his people from slavery. “My people will see his glory—promises the prophet—because God comes to save them” (Is 35:2,4).
In the first verses of today’s Gospel (vv. 31-32) the verb ‘glorify’ appears five times: “The Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him”; if God is glorified in him, in turn, “he will glorify him and will glorify him at once.” A redundancy, a verbosity that almost annoys; a solemnity that seems excessive and out of place in the context in which these words are spoken by Jesus. We are in the Upper Room and a few hours is missing to his capture and his death sentence.
Who does not know in advance how the events took place is inclined to think that God is about to amaze everyone with a prodigy, is going to give a demonstration of his power by humiliating his enemies.
None of this. Jesus is glorified because Judas left to reach an agreement with the high priests on how to stop the master (v. 31). Something unheard of, outrageous and incomprehensible to people happen: in Jesus who journeys towards his passion and death, who delivers himself into the hands of the executioners and is nailed to the cross, the “glory” of God is manifested.
A few days before Jesus made it clear in what consists his glory: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified … unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it will produce much fruit” (Jn 12: 23-24). The glory that awaits him is the moment when giving his life, he will reveal to the world how great God’s love for man is. This is the only glory he also promises to his disciples.
The passage continues with the presentation of the new commandment, prefaced by a surprising phrase: little children … (v. 33). The disciples are not children, but Jesus’ brothers. Why call them this way? To understand the meaning of his words, the time when they are pronounced should be kept in mind. At the Last Supper, Jesus realized that he only has a few hours of life and feels the need to dictate his will. As the children considered sacred words spoken by the father on his deathbed, so Jesus wants his disciples to imprint in their mind and heart what he is going to say.
Here is his testament: “I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you!” (v. 34). To underline the importance he will repeat it two more times before walking to the Gethsemane: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:17). He speaks like someone who wants to leave an inheritance: “I give”—he says (v. 34). We ourselves could have chosen a gift among many that he possessed, all—I think—could have asked the power to work miracles. He offered instead a new commandment.
Commandment for us is tantamount to taxation, a heavy commitment to fulfill, a weight to bear. Some believe that happiness is attained by those who are smart, who enjoy life in contravention of the “ten words” of God. Others are convinced that those who manage to keep the Ten Commandments deserve paradise while the unfaithful ones must be severely punished. This is a still widespread conviction and must be urgently corrected because it is extremely pernicious; it is a fruit of a disfigured image of God.
A simple example: If a doctor insists that his patient stops smoking, he does not do so to restrict his freedom, to deprive him of a pleasure, to test him, but because he wants his own good. Secretly, trying not to get noticed, the patient can continue to smoke only to find himself later with damaged lungs. The doctor does not punish him for this (did not hurt him, but he did it to himself). He will always try to have him recover. And God—by the way—Is a good doctor, “heals all sickness” (Ps 103:3). Giving us his commandment Jesus shows himself an unparalleled friend. He has shown us, not with words, but with the gift of life, how to realize the fullness of our existence in this world.
It is a new commandment. In what sense? Is it not already written in the Old Testament: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18)? Let us grasp where the novelty is.
Regarding what the Old Testament recommended the second part is certainly new: “as I have loved you, you also must love one another” (v. 34). The measure of love proposed to us by Jesus is not the one we use for ourselves, but what he has had for us.
It is not said that we love ourselves: we cannot stand our limits, faults, and miseries. If we make a mistake, a bad impression, a gesture of which we should be ashamed of, we even to get punish ourselves. Then the commandment is new because it is not spontaneous for people to love those who do not deserve it or cannot reciprocate. It is not normal to do good to one’s own enemies.
Jesus reveals a new love: he loved those who needed his love to be happy. He loved the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the wicked, the corrupt, his executioners because only in loving them he could get them out of their condition of meanness, misery, and sin.
It is the gratuitous and unmotivated love of which God has given proof in the Old Testament when he chose his people: “The Lord—says Moses to the Israelites—has bound himself to you and has chosen you, not because you are the most numerous among all the peoples (on the contrary you are the least) … but because of his love for you” (Dt 7:7-8). This is why John says: “I am not writing you a new commandment, but reminding you of an old one … if you love your brother you remain in the light” (1 Jn 2:7-10).
But the great novelty of this commandment is another one. It is the fact that no one before Jesus has ever attempted to build a society based on a love like his. The Christian community is set as an alternative, as a new proposal to all the old societies of the world, to those based on competition, meritocracy, money, and power. It is this love that must “glorify” the disciples of Christ.
By the mouth of Jeremiah, God announced: “The time is coming when I will forge a new covenant with the people of Israel” (Jer 31:31). The old covenant was drawn up on the basis of the Ten Commandments. The new alliance is linked to the compliance with a unique, new commandment: love to the brother, such as that Jesus was capable.
Jesus concludes his “testament” by saying: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (v. 35). We know that the fruits do not make the tree alive, however, they are signs that the tree is alive. Good works do not make our communities Christian, but these works give evidence that our communities are animated by the Spirit of the Risen One.
Christians are not people different from others; they do not wear badges, do not live out of the world. What distinguishes them is the logic of the gratuitous love, that of Jesus and that of the Father
Italian missionary and biblical scholar
FRIENDSHIP WITHIN THE CHURCH
José A. Pagola
It’s the evening of his execution. Jesus is celebrating the last supper with his own. He has just finished washing his disciples’ feet. Judas has already made his tragic decision, and after eating the last piece of bread from Jesus’ hands, he has left to do his business. Jesus says aloud what all are feeling: «My children, I shall be with you only a little longer».
He speaks with tenderness. He wants his last actions and words to be engraved on their hearts: «I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognize you as my disciples». This is Jesus’ testament.
Jesus speaks of a «new commandment». What’s so new about it? The saying about loving one’s neighbor is already present in the biblical tradition. Also many Greek philosophers speak of philanthropy and of love for all human beings. Its novelty is in the form of love that is Jesus’ own: «Love one another as I have loved you». That’s how his style of loving will be spread through his followers.
The first thing that the disciples have experienced is that Jesus has loved them as friends: «I don’t call you servants…I have called you friends». In the Church we must care for each other simply as friends. And among friends you are careful about equality, closeness and mutual support. No one is above anyone else. No friend is lord of his friends.
That’s why Jesus cuts off ambition among his disciples at the root when he sees them discussing who is number one. The seeking of self-appointed advantages breaks friendship and communion. Jesus reminds them of his style: «I haven’t come to be served but to serve». Among friends no one has to impose self. All have to be ready to serve and collaborate.
This friendship that Jesus’ followers live out doesn’t lead to a closed community. Rather, the warm and friendly atmosphere that they have among themselves leads them to welcome whoever needs welcoming and friendship. Jesus has taught them to eat with sinners and with people who are excluded and rejected. He has scolded them for keeping the children away. In Jesus’ community the little ones aren’t blocked, but the great ones are.
One day Jesus called the Twelve, put a small child in their midst, embraced her and said: «If you welcome a small child like this in my name, you welcome me». In the Church that Jesus wanted, the littlest, the most fragile and vulnerable must be the focus of everyone’s attention and care.