Reflection on the Gospel -Easter 5C (John 13:31-35) -Veronica Lawson RSM
The literary context for today’s gospel reading is Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Jesus has washed the feet of his weary table companions whom he addresses affectionately as “dear friends” (“little children” in some translations) and has thus provided an example of what it means to love. What he has done for them, they are to do for one another. In other words, no form of service is too menial for a Christian disciple and privileged exemption from service of others has no place in gospel living or in gospel leadership. Pope Francis has witnessed powerfully to this from the beginning of his papacy and in diverse ways over the past nine years.
Jesus is “troubled in spirit” (v. 21) at this meal. There is a sense of foreboding in this statement. He knows that membership of the group is no guarantee of fidelity or of sustained goodness. All are capable of betrayal and Judas, who has been one of his closest companions, is about to hand him over to the authorities and ultimately to death. Another, Simon Peter, after protesting undying loyalty will proceed to deny him three times (vv. 37-38). Though troubled and no doubt disappointed by the failure of his friends and the dire consequences for himself, Jesus continues to teach the way of discipleship.
The betrayer’s departure from the meal, Jesus informs them, signals the imminent arrival of the moment of glorification. Events have been set in train that will culminate in God’s victory over evil and death. But this is not the end of their association with him. He will leave them very soon and they are to continue on the way of discipleship. His legacy to them is “a new commandment” – to love one another just as he has loved them. If they do that, everyone will know they are his disciples. To love as Jesus loved, however, is no small thing: it is to be willing to give one’s life for the sake of “the other”.
This new commandment to love one another is also Jesus’ legacy to us, the successors of those early disciples. Loving care of the broken-hearted, of the war-ravaged and displaced, of the sick and the weary; providing shelter for the homeless; attentiveness to those grieving the loss of loved ones or of livelihood; a restorative gesture or word; a change in lifestyle or a tree planted in the interests of planetary survival – these are some of the ways of love and of discipleship. In our times, we have come to realise that “the other” embraces the more-than-human and that love of all God’s creation is part of the new commandment.
How can we show love for others?