Fr Terry writes:
Because the gospel today (John 13.31-35) is about love, and is very short, we might not notice something about it that is rather odd.
We hear Jesus speak movingly about love. He places love as central commandment that should characterise the lives of his followers. And yet – here is the strange thing – this commandment comes immediately after a betrayal, for our gospel passage opens with the words: ‘When Judas had gone …’ In fact, only a few verses earlier (v 21) Jesus tells the disciples: ‘One of you will betray me.’
When Judas had gone ….This tells us that Jesus knew that the end was approaching, and that it would not be pleasant. Think of it. A disciple from his own circle has first embezzled the money they pooled in the common purse. This same person has then gone on to betray him for a bribe. Jesus has been tailed by spies, misrepresented and calumnied. An ordinary human response at this point might be to give way to bitterness, recrimination and despair. But this does not happen. Instead Jesus talks about the importance of love.
It is a revealing sign of the strength and steadfastness of Christ, of his inner character, that at a moment like this he does not give in to fear, but turns, ever more urgently, to his central message, love. Love is what he came for, and love is what motivates him. This little scene, with the door closing behind the betrayer and Jesus turning to his followers to speak of love, is a wonderful revelation of the soul of Christ.
What about us? If we are there in that room for a moment, then we hear Jesus speak the words, ‘Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another’ (v. 34). You are right if you feel a little daunted. How can we have the limitless love of Christ? The patience, the perseverance, the ability to go (in the phrase he taught us) the second mile? We might even have the words of today’s first reading ringing in our ears, when Paul and Barnabas say: ‘We all have to experience many hardships before we enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14.22).
The American priest and author Richard John Neuhaus wrote about the faith of Pope John XXIII. Pope John would say to himself each day, as he got up, the same verse from scripture, ‘New every morning are the mercies of the Lord’ (Lam. 3.22-23). Comments Neuhaus, ‘Without that assurance, the unpredictability of the future would paralyze him.’ There, I think, you have it in a nutshell. Looking to the future, we wonder, quite rightly, if we will ever have the resources. Yet we can only live one day at a time, and the whole promise of our faith is one of communion with God. God came among us in Christ and Christ comes among us now in the Mass, so that we might enter deeply into that mystery which is God. And God is love. So yes, we dare to try to follow Christ in love, to love as he loved, but we do so trusting in the grace of God, and in doing so, we set out each day afresh.