A New Commandment
Fifth Week of Easter. fr David Goodill suggests how the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Father transforms our humanity.
At the beginning of today’s Gospel we are told that Jesus speaks after Judas has departed. This is during the Lord’s last supper with his disciples, during which Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him. It is the one to whom he will give a morsel of bread who will betray him. How does Jesus know that Judas will betray him? In our scientific age when we think about predicting the future images of numbers being crunched by super-computers spring to mind. If we allow this image to rule how we envisage Jesus’ predictive power then he becomes super-human, a man who looks like the rest of us, but who conceals super-powers under his human clothing.
The Jesus we encounter in Scripture is a man of exceptional intelligence and insight, but this does not entail that he is a super-man with special super hero powers. If we want to understand what is exceptional about Jesus we need to attend to his own words. In today’s Gospel he tells his disciples that he is the Son of Man, and that in him God has been gloried. All human beings are related to God as creatures that are made in God’s own image. In Jesus Christ, however, the whole of the human race is represented in our relationship to God. There is a unity between humanity and divinity in the person of Jesus Christ which is unique, and which allows us to call God ‘Our Father’. This unity entails that in his humanity Jesus Christ dwells constantly in the presence of God, and it is this indwelling which enables Jesus to have insight into the future.
This insight should not be considered just to be like watching a film of the future. If you watch the last five minutes of a film you can make very little sense of what is going on, unless you already understand a great deal about the story and the characters. In order to have real insight into what is going to happen next in the film you need to see more than just a set of moving images. It is the wider context of the film which allows you to see what is coming next, and for most films this wider context is the world of human behaviour. What happens next involves how the characters react to the events which life throws at them. These events often are unexpected, but the reactions of the characters to these events are largely predictable. There are cases in which unexpected reactions occur, a timid character shows great courage in adversity or a cynical business man is found to have a heart, but these only make sense because they are exceptions to the normal reactions of such characters.
In real life it is far harder to make sense of other people’s reactions than it is in a film. Life is far more complicated than even the most sophisticated of films, and we are involved in a manner which makes it difficult to always keep things in perspective. The intimate union Jesus has with his Father means that he is able to see the truth of life in a way which no one else can. But far from removing him from involvement in life this union with the divine enables him to be more truly human than any other human being. He is the Son of Man, and can read the heart of all people. This is not the distant knowledge of a neutral observer, but the intimate knowledge of one who loves. There is nothing neutral about Jesus’ knowledge of our hearts, and as he reads Judas’ heart his own heart is breaking.
And so he tells his disciples that they must love one another as he has loved them. The truth of life which he reveals to them is the truth of the human heart, as we are loved and transformed with the love which he has received from his Father. In each of our lives there is the invitation of an unexpected event, something which shakes all of our expectations and makes us into a new creation. Our reactions are predictable but through the friendship of the Son of Man our predictable lives are given an extra-ordinary ending: the living of his new commandment of love.
Readings: Acts 14:21-27 | Apocalypse 21:1-5 | John 13:31-33,34-35
The image above is of a mosaic designed by Burnes-Jones and completed in 1885. It is found in the apse of St Paul’s Church within the Walls in Rome.