Love is the central action in Jesus’ ministry, and it is the focus of today’s Gospel. Jesus gives a command that is not completely new, although he makes a remarkable addition that should inform how we respond to the complexities of the world.
Love one another. This how all will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)
Fifth Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts 14:21-27; Ps 145; Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35
How does your faith inform your thoughts on the challenges of today?
How can you respond to the needs of the world?
What can you do to love as Jesus does?
The Gospel from John comes towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, as he prepares himself and his followers for his impending death. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, caring for them and showing them how to care for one another. “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 14:15). By washing his followers ‘feet from him, Jesus prioritizes service to the community as a foundational element of discipleship.
As his interaction with the disciples continues, Jesus alerts them that his time is limited, and he gives a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you should also love one another.” By doing this, the disciples show the world that they are his followers of him.
Jesus’ new commandment is quite old, a partial quote from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus adds “as I have loved you” to the command, highlighting both that Jesus’ actions demonstrate his love for him, and also that his followers must act similarly to show love to others. We saw the command to serve and love highlighted on the Third Sunday of Easter in one of the post-resurrection appearances, and today we hear it again within the context of Jesus’ farewell address. As he prepares for the crucifixion, Jesus encourages his followers to emulate him and also to interpret his death as a sacrificial act of love.
The call to love can help us to live like Christ and put our faith into action. We should not miss that Jesus washes Judas’ feet too. Judas is not excluded or condemned for his betrayal of him. Jesus cares for him even knowing that he would betray him.
Today there are countless topics and actions that people are quick to judge and condemn. The discourse surrounding abortion is an example where love is often lacking and hate and judgment dominate both extremes of the conversation. What would it look like if laws regarding abortions were grounded in love rather than hate? How and why is this issue used to polarize us, as if only unborn life or women’s rights, but never both together, are worthy of intense love and advocacy?
The Gospel and its surrounding texts challenge us to love as Jesus does, which includes loving those who are enemies and those who mean to do us harm. This is a challenge, perhaps one that seems unreasonable, but it should inform how we approach complicated issues of today, including debates about abortion. Last week, many celebrated the love that comes from mothers and mother-figures in our lives, recognizing their countless sacrifices and examples of love. As debates about motherhood and women’s rights persist, we must focus on actions and policies that actually promote love, providing resources that will better help all people to survive and thrive.