One of the great gifts of John’s Gospel is the insight and understanding offered to all disciples and would-be followers; there is nothing conditional about Jesus’ message or his love for us. Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” (14:6) for all of us and this has nothing to do with any quid pro quo, exchange or transaction. There is nothing you or I must do to earn God’s love.
Jesus being lifted up from the earth and drawing all people to himself does not depend on anything we do or fail to do. Jesus is not laying down conditions as he prepares to go to the cross or his glorification. His words are intended to assure and reassure and do not threaten, demand or require pre-conditions or judge.
Jesus consistently and repeatedly responds to human need, whatever the provocation or desire for preferential treatment, or exclusiveness by those around him. He explains and demonstrates God’s love repeatedly without any conditions.
I was wondering, do you remember the time you fell in love? Or perhaps became aware of the deep love you have for another person. Their wellbeing becomes and is always your priority. You seek to anticipate their needs, do what they like, you are generous, joyful in their presence, gentle with them, faithful, patient, kind and without demands for recompense. You simply love them. You take great joy in being in their company. It is life-giving; and you are different because of your love for them.
It can be hard to hold onto this experience and memory in times of stress, despair, fear and difficulties. Doubt creeps in, we become distracted, doubting them and ourselves.
In this reading of John’s Gospel, (14:15-21) Jesus is having a conversation with his disciples at their last meal together. He has spoken of betrayal and denial, by Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Jesus is telling them again of his impending death. The feet of the disciples are still a little damp from Jesus having washed and dried them. They are uncomfortable and distressed. This is not a normal supper.
I wonder also if Jesus’ “new commandment, that you love one another….as I have loved you” (13:34) strikes a discordant note between the sound of Judas leaving the room abruptly, heading out into the night to betray him and Peter’s boastful blustering to be faithful even to death.
The disciples have just witnessed a stunning act of humble service which encompasses Jesus’ whole ministry among them, as the Word of God made human, the Messiah forgiving, cleansing, teaching, showing loving obedience to the One who sent him, all out of love.
As we think about the unearned gift of love, we can remember how joyful it is to be of service to those we love.
Jesus’ comment is not a command, it is not a ‘you do this, so I will then do that…’ conditional imperative. Rather, it is an invitation and a loving understanding of human nature and our response is to love once we see it, experience it and accept it: ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ (14:15). Of course we will, how would we not when we are in love.
Love is an emotion and experience relating to every human being who has ever lived. Jesus goes on to give more insight to this understanding and teaching, particularly as we think about what is to happen next to Jesus:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
Love makes us foolish and joyful. The world chooses to see us as clowns perhaps because of our love for God and each other, but we also know the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of any human being.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (I Cor. 1:20)
The foolish lover idea captures everything we need to know about who is God. A fool who loves intensely is not someone who looks for others to take notice of just how great a lover they are. God does not love us because God has to or because God pities us. God’s love is given to us abundantly and without reserve, because God is love.
Our response need not be to start a relentless, unending, wearying effort to win God’s favour and love in order to earn it and keep it. It is instead to become completely and openly receptive to letting ourselves be completely taken over by God and God’s love. Letting God act on us and coming to grips with God’s foolish identity frees us from thinking we must have everything all figured out and we can fix it on our own.
There is something very freeing from knowing God loves us because of our humanity and despite our responses; and all God desires is intimacy and precious closeness with us as the beloved.
Therefore, God is doing something unthinkable and extraordinary. God is giving us the ‘Paraclete’, as Jesus is glorified. This is God inbreaking into the world for a second time at Pentecost (John 20:22). This is the covenant, the seal of Christ. The word ‘Paraclete’ is translated variously, but in the NRSV Bible, the word Advocate is used.
The Paraclete is the love bond with God, the relational one alongside us, in us, with us, empowering, animating, guiding and supporting. As we hear and recognise Jesus’ image of the orphan, it resonates deep into our hearts. A sense of abandonment and fear can take hold. Jesus uses this description as it is so evocative and his reassurance is immediate and allows us to see more clearly his meaning in the open offering of the Paraclete to us.
I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them (John 14:18-21)
In the midst of brokenness and terror, it is only love keeping us alive. This is God present in the world. As we remain in relationship with God, in love and in obedience, the Paraclete is with us, always.
How does one practice loving devotion to the teaching of our faith in communities broken by betrayal, empty promises, and deaths of leaders? After Jesus’ death his own disciples went back to fishing. Even after his miraculous resurrection they went into hiding. Only after the inbreaking of the Spirit, the presence of the Paraclete given freely, did they go out and turn the world upside down.
No wonder Jesus promised his followers would do greater works than he did. (John 14:12).
The experience of abandonment, becoming an orphan is overtaken and wiped out as the experience of love permeates everything. Beyond friendship and liking, beyond betrayal, weariness, trials and difficult challenges, grief and loss, together with sins of commission and omission, all we can see and believe is in God’s love and know God is present.
A relational bond is established with Jesus and God. Loving Jesus is loving God, loving God is loving others and God’s love redeems and saves everything.
In our community there are signs God’s love is present. God is training our eyes to see the one who may be hidden from the world, but who is alive in those who show their love for Jesus by keeping his commandments, ‘to love God and to love one another in Christ’. To them, Jesus is revealed.
As our community befriends the world and one another in the same way, we are revealing God’s love to others. As we live out this relationship, we remember what binds us to Jesus and God is love. Whatever else we determine to be involved in keeping God’s commandments and Jesus’ words, it must manifest love. Nothing else is real or true.