Gospel: John 14:15-21
The Command to Love
How do we know we are loved?
On a bus, a believer and a non-believer discussed the Christian life. "Jesus lives," the believer said. "Only in your mind!" the non-believer retorted with a cynical sneer. "And in my heart," the believer replied.
Knowledge of faith requires more than the rational arguments used in apologetics. Only when we begin to love God and reflect that love in daily living can we gain true insight. And influence others.
This portion of Jesus' farewell discourse falls on the heels of last week's study. As you remember, Jesus stated he lived in an intimate love with the Father. Now, Jesus would empower his followers to love same way he did. And, he promised to be with them.
Jesus said to his followers:
15 If you love me, you will obey my commands to love others. 16 I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, the Spirit, who will always stay with you. 17 The Helper is God's Spirit of truth, whom the people only concerned about this world cannot accept because they do not see him or know him. You know the Helper because he stays near you and is in you. 18 I will not leave you alone, for I will come to you again. 19 In a while, the people only concerned about this world won't see me anymore. But, because I live, you will see me and you will live. 20 On that last day, you will know I am in my Father, I am in you, and you are in me.
21 Everyone who obeys the commands of love I give loves me. My Father will love everyone who loves me. I will love them, too. And I will show them who I really am.
Jesus commanded his followers to love. This command had two consequences: the promise of the Spirit and life everlasting. Both were based on intimacy with the Lord.
Jesus told his followers:
15 If you love me, you will obey MY commands (to love). 16 I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, so that he will be with you until the end of the age, 17 the Spirit of Truth which the world is not able to accept, because (the world) does not see not know (the Spirit). You know (the Spirit), because it remains beside you and it is in you.
14:17 "it is in you." Because many scholars are uncertain about the original tense of this phrase, it can be translated "it will be in you."
Jesus began with an "if . . . , then . . . " statement that equated relationship with action. "If you love me, keep my commands." [14:15] Among the contemporaries of Jesus, the power of a rabbi's teaching depended upon the quality of the rabbi's example. Conversely, the rabbi expected his disciples not only to learn from his teaching, but to follow his example. In this way, the action vindicated the truth of the teaching.
A clear connection existed between the "words" of teaching and the moral "commands" the teaching implied. John followed the long tradition that equated "command" with "word." Even Deuteronomy 5:5 refers to the Decalogue as the "words of God."
In John, both the words and commands of Jesus pointed toward love. Love between the Father and the Son. Love between the Son and his followers. Now, Jesus told his disciples to follow his example. Love each other. The love relationship between the Father and the Son, between the Son and his followers, became the paradigm for life in the Christian community.
But the simple command to love did not satisfy, since example alone could not suffice. Jesus provided the power to love in the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. In Greek, "Paraclete" literally means "one called along side." The phrase could mean a broader sense of "Helper" (one called along side to help) or a narrower sense of "defense attorney" (one called along side to assist in a legal dispute). The context justified the broader meaning of "Helper." The Spirit witnessed to Jesus and taught the disciple; in this sense, the Spirit accused the world of sin through the life of the Christian. In no way could the Spirit be seen as a legal spokesperson in behalf of the accused Christian. While Christians were persecuted, they didn't need a defense for a life of love.
Jesus promised the Spirit would "stay with you into the (next) age (i.e., forever)." [14:16] The Spirit's presence was continuous (right now) and eternal (forever). The Spirit assisted the believer from the moment of faith choice into the afterlife. The Spirit helped the believer to put faith into action (that is, to love others).
But, the Spirit did more than help. It was the Spirit of Truth. [14:7a] Like John 4:23b-24, the Spirit referred to God's inner dynamic power. Truth equaled the word "only" or acted as the means that revealed the "only" truth (remember our discussion last week about "truth"). So, the Spirit was Truth (that is, God) or the messenger who reveals the truth about God. Actually, the Spirit was both. Remember, "wherever God acts, God is." Like Jesus, the Spirit was God's messenger and God himself. The Spirit empowered the believer as the divine presence, another God-helper.
Could those whose ambitions and anxieties tied them to the world see the Spirit? In other words, could these "worldly" people see love for what it truly was? Could they know true love? The followers of Jesus could see love because the Spirit would orient them to Christ and others (" . . . be near you . . . "). And, they would know love because the Spirit, Christ's very risen life, would live in the follower (" . . . will live in you . . . "). [14:17b] Could the world promise as much? Or did the world simply pay lip service to love as it invested itself in sheer narcissism?
Catechism Themes: The Holy Spirit, God's Gift
We can sum up the fullness of all God's gifts in one word: Love. The outpouring of God's love forgives our sin, restores us in communion with God, and empowers us to pass God's gift of love to others. Indeed, "God is Love" (1 John 4:8) and any relationship with God must be firmly rooted in love.
The Holy Spirit brings us God's love. In fact, the Spirit and God's love are so intertwined that the gift of God's Spirit is a gift of his love. When we experience transcendent love, we know the Spirit lives in us. When we love others, we follow the prompting of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit speaks directly to love: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
What experiences of human love have pointed you toward God? What experiences of God's love have helped you to love others?
18 I will not leave you (helpless); I will come back to you. 19 (In) a little while, the world will see ME no longer, but you see ME, because I live (with the Father) and you will live. 20 On that (final) day, you will know that I (am) in my Father, you (are) in ME, and I (am) in you. 21 The (disciple) possessing my commands and accepting them, that (person) is the (one) loving me. But, the (disciple) loving me will be loved by MY Father, and I will love him and reveal MYSELF to him.
14:18 "(helpless)" is literally "orphan" but the word meant "having no one to depend upon" or "having no one to care for you."
Jesus promised to return both in the resurrection and on the Day of Judgement. [4:18] The resurrection would reveal Christ to the community. The Second Coming would reveal Christ to everyone. John mixed the two "moments" of revelation with the metaphor of sight.
Worldly people cannot "see" Jesus, for they gaze only upon themselves. But believers would see and have true life, because Jesus lived. [14:19] Notice, the risen life of Jesus (i.e., the Spirit) is the source of spiritual "sight" (faith) in the believer and eternal life for the believer.
Just as we love because others loved us, we truly live because Another gave us that life. Our life and love depend upon someone else. We fool ourselves if we believe all life and love depends upon our own efforts. Isn't that the illusion people of the world proclaim?
Someday, the truth will be known, whether it is the day of faith or the Last Day. At some point, everyone will see all life and love come from God. [14:20] How will they recognize this fact? Through the lives of those who depend upon God, who love God, who draw their every existence from God. Understanding the example of love believers leave offers the non-believer a choice. Accept love from its source and receive true life. Or be lost. This moment of choice becomes the moment of judgement.
Jesus completed these verses by coming full circle. But, instead of connecting teaching and action in a conditional statement ("if . . . , then . . . "), he reversed the order. Those who obey his love command love him. They enjoy the love of God and his Son. And, through love, Jesus will reveal himself to the them. [14:21] In this way, Jesus not only connected teaching and action. He connected action to revelation. Love became the conduit of revelation.
Catechism Theme: The Holy Spirit and the Church
The mission of the Holy Spirit is to bring everyone to Christ. The Spirit prepares everyone and invites them to Christ. With the gift of Christ's risen life, the Spirit unites all believers to Christ and places them in communion with the Father. Since the Spirit unites all in Christ, the Spirit builds up the Church Christ found on earth.
The Church shares in the mission of the Spirit and reveals the work of the Spirit. As the Church evangelizes, it shares in the Spirit's work. As the Church prays to and worships God in sacrament, it shows the world the work of the Spirit. In this sense, the Church becomes a co-worker and an instrument of the Spirit. As long as we, members of the Church, show our love for God in sincere prayer and show our love for neighbor in acts of kindness, we demonstrate our life in the Spirit.
Why are acts of love the most powerful tools we have to bring others to Christ?
When we, as Christians, show love, we reveal the life of God among people. Why? Simply because we affirm the presence of the Risen Lord with us. And we show others life of the Spirit within us. Love, then, is "the shoe leather of faith." Love is faith in action.
To those who, like the cynic on the bus, claim Christianity is nothing more than a movement built on a fantasy, we say; "Christians! See how they love one another."
How will you show love this week to others?