'Jesus places following him and obeying his Commandments within the context of love.' So states Father Garry Koch in his Gospel reflection for May 17, 2020. Photo from Freepik.com
'Jesus places following him and obeying his Commandments within the context of love.' So states Father Garry Koch in his Gospel reflection for May 17, 2020. Photo from Freepik.com
Gospel Reflection for May 17, 2020, Sixth Sunday of Easter

“If you love me, you will keep my Commandments.”

Jesus places following him and obeying his Commandments within the context of love. This sense of love – to be at service to one another unconditionally – is a radically significant commandment. The Father had called upon the Israelites to love him and they recite the shemah every day: to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus asks this same love from his disciples but makes an interesting distinction. While loving God was a Commandment as seen in the citation above from the Book of Deuteronomy, Jesus moved love from a Commandment to a total act of the will. First, we must love Jesus and from that experience of love, we keep the Commandments. It is likely true that many of the Israelites and contemporaries of Jesus followed the commandments out of a sense of fear or duty. They may well have loved God but that love was not as such the motivation for observance. Jesus changes that very dialogue.

We are motivated to follow the Commandments of Jesus out of our love for him. But now we must ask ourselves what are these Commandments so that we might follow them? In the context of John’s Gospel, where this passage is found, there is only one Commandment that Jesus gives to his disciples: “love one another as I have loved you.”

When we delve into the letters of the Johannine tradition, particularly the first letter which reflects the theology of the Gospel, this same commandment is repeated and regarded as as the only Commandment. Therefore, Jesus makes following him very clear – if we love him we will love one another in the same manner that he has loved us.

This is a real distinction between John’s Gospel and the others. In them, particularly in Matthew, Jesus lays out various Commandments and even appears at times to challenge his disciples to a deeper observance of the Laws of Moses. John breaks from this tradition and, as some commentators observe, the First Letter of John emphasizing again Love as the only commandment, does so likely because the Gospel of John was seen as a break from that perspective. An ancient tradition accounts that the very last words of St. John as he was dying well into his nineties was: “Children, love one another.”

When we understand Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the very embodiment of the covenant between God and Israel first, and then extended to the many who would believe in him, then Jesus becomes the very embodiment of love itself. Indeed, John in the First Letter says it quite succinctly: “God is love.”

Hence, the invitation to discipleship is a call to radical love – to live our lives in service to one another in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called to set aside the pettiness, jealousies, angers, disappointments, biases, and judgments that separate the men and women of this world from one another and to simply love one another because we love as Jesus loves.

We know this love – agape – is not a passive emotion or merely a feeling. This is a love demands action. Love means laying down our lives, putting ourselves on the line for the sake of the other in the name of Jesus.

We do not do this for our own aggrandizement. We do not this for the sake of pity or to “feel good” about it. We lay down our lives in love because Jesus loves us, we love Jesus, and Jesus commands us to love one another.

None of us can do this perfectly. We all fail at it, and we fail miserably at it. Hence, sin, all sin, is at its core a failure of love. The challenge is that various emotions, motives, and urges masquerade as love giving us confusion and drawing us headlong into sin instead of the love of Christ.

Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit – the Paraclete – to make up for what is lacking in our ability to love. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit present and working in and through us makes love present in the world.

We pray, then, that we will have the strength and the faith to love as Jesus demands, and that we are open to the power of the Spirit to gift us with the power to love even more fully.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.