ALL MEN WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER
(A biblical refection on THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER [YEAR C] – 19 May 2019)
Gospel Reading: John 13:31-33,34-35
First Reading: Acts 14:21-27; Psalms: Psalm 145:8-13; Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5
The Scripture Text
When he (Judas) had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in Him God is glorified; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31-35 RSV)
Some groups have secret handshakes to distinguish members from non-members and other groups have emblems or distinctive uniforms. The followers of Jesus also have something to set them apart from the crowd, their love for each other. Today’s Gospel reading ends with Jesus telling the apostles that their love for one another will the way other people know they are His disciples. Love is supposed to be what separates them from those who do not believe in Jesus.
A problem arises because the English language uses the one word, love, to describe a wide variety of experiences. We sometimes think of love as a feeling, but we can also use this word to describe many different types of relationships (e.g. the relationship between a parent and child, the relationship between a husband and wife). This little four letter word can have several different definitions depending on the context within which we use it. With so many possible meanings, how can we know for certain what Jesus had in mind when He spoke the words in today’s Gospel?
Although Jesus did not speak English, He may have known three different languages: Hebrew (the official language of the Jewish people), Aramaic (the everyday language of the people of Palestine), and Greek (the language of the Roman Empire). Of these three languages, Greek will be the most helpful in determining the type of love Jesus was talking about because it is the language of the New Testament.
There are several different Greek words for our one word “love”, including philia, a love that describes the relationship between two friends; eros, sexual love; and agape, a self-giving love. Of these three different words for love, agape is the one we most frequently find on the lips of Jesus. It is also the word for love in today’s Gospel.
Agape is a love that focuses on the needs of the other person. It is freely given without counting the cost and without thinking of getting anything in return. Agape looks beyond physical beauty, color of skin, political beliefs, and status. It means reaching out to all people even if they are repulsive or if society considers them worthless. It is the love that should be the hallmark of every Christian.
“See how they love each other!” was the way the non-Christians described the early followers of Jesus. Would non-Christians today say that about your parish community, and other basic Christian communities you belong as a member?
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 266-267.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You have returned to the Father’s glory. Your divine light, like the sun, is too bright for our eyes to take. But the warmth of Your presence is here for us through the mutual love of Your disciples in the Christian community who follow Your commandment to “love one another just as You have loved us”. Thank You for Your continuing presence, dear Lord Jesus. Amen.
Jakarta, 17 May 2019
A Christian Pilgrim