5th Sunday of Easter, Year C
John 13: 31-33a, 34-35
The Greatest, and Most Difficult, Charge in the Gospels
The first, and greatest, trifecta in scripture is, of course, the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. But, of the 2nd scriptural trifecta, faith, hope, and love, in Corinthians, we are told, “The greatest of these is love” (Corinthians 13:13). Paul bases his words in Corinthians on Jesus’s commandment found in today’s gospel: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another” (v. 34). But perhaps even more important are Jesus’s very next words, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35).
That’s a pretty heady charge—that our identity in Jesus comes from our love for one another. But I don’t always, maybe even don’t often, like my fellow man. So how can my identity as a Christian be based on loving this person I don’t care for?
I wrestled with this issue for a couple of weeks trying to write this reflection. Finally, I offered it up. Then I started thinking about the fact that Jesus modeled everything He taught. Everything. While Jesus was divine, He was also human, so though He may have loved everyone, He probably didn’t like everyone, at least not all the time. To whom and how did Jesus show love? That would probably be a good place to start.
My list was long. Jesus showed love to His mother—the wedding at Cana is one example and there are a myriad of others. To His best friends—He cried for Lazarus’s death before He brought His friend back. To His disciples—He didn’t give up on them even when they didn’t understand, He trusted them to take over when He was gone, He revealed Himself to them time and again, He forgave them when they betrayed Him. To the disfigured and ill with miracle after miracle. To the possessed—He cast out demons and freed them from anxiety and, most of all, showed them compassion. To children—He accepted them. To the outcasts—He ate with them and stayed with them. To the women—He treated them as equals. To the Pharisees—He showed them tough love. To His Father—He prayed, spent time with Him, followed Him even when He didn’t understand, and He cleared the temple out in anger for Him.
Looking at this list, it’s obvious that Jesus’s definition of love isn’t just a feeling. It’s action. No matter how we feel, we can still show love. We have no way of knowing, of course, but as a human, Jesus may not have actually felt kindly towards every person He encountered. But still He showed them all love. Put that in the present-tense. He shows us all love, or at least me-all. If I’m honest, there are definitely times when Jesus doesn’t like me. But He still loves me. Wow.
To return to today’s gospel, the world will know we are Jesus’s disciples when we treat others with respect no matter how we feel about what they stand for or who they are. That might be the most powerful charge in the entire gospel: love one another as I have loved you. I know it’s the most difficult. It might have been for Jesus too. But with His Father’s help, He loved unconditionally. So should we.