by Veronica Lawson, RSM
Those who defend themselves in court run the risk of being outsmarted by clever and sometimes unscrupulous adversaries. It is never a good idea to be too self-reliant even in a country with a basically sound legal system such as ours. Today’s gospel implies that the disciples need a defense attorney or lawyer. Jesus has acted in that capacity for them in their struggles with the anti-gospel forces arrayed against them.
Now he is close to death and he gives them instructions that begin and end with reference to loving him and keeping his commandments. Jesus has given them a new commandment, namely that they love one another: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). Later in this discourse (15:12-14) the reader of the gospel learns what the actors in the drama already know about Jesus’ commandments. “This is my commandment,” says Jesus, “that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is no small demand, to be prepared to die for one another.
Given the opposition they are likely to face, the disciples cannot live out such a commitment on their own. Neither is Jesus leaving them “orphans” who have to fend for themselves. He will ask his “Father” to provide “another” defender or advocate who will act on their behalf, an advocate who will always be there. This new advocate is the “Spirit of truth”. As we approach the end of the Easter season, the liturgy thus points us towards Pentecost and the gift of God’s Spirit.
It is good to know we are never on our own. It is also good to reflect on the capacity we have for love. Many of us will never find ourselves in a situation where our love is tested to the point that we have to die for another. Since the outbreak of the present pandemic, however, we do not have the look far to find countless people doing just that. Health professionals, cleaners, truck drivers, flight attendants, shop assistants, school teachers, lecturers, ordinary people everywhere are laying down their lives for the sake of others. They are truly our friends. The gospel calls us to put the well-being of others, even their survival, before our own comfort. With the life-style changes that will inevitably come sooner rather than later, we may all find ourselves “laying down our lives” in various ways for the sake of our friends, humankind and other-kind, across the planet. We can, despite opposition, continue to advocate for climate action, for the rights of detainees and prisoners and for those displaced by war or persecution. With the help of the Spirit, our Advocate, we can surely rise to the challenge.