Into the Darkness
Fifth Sunday of Easter. Fr Dermot Morrin preaches on ultimate love.
When Judas had gone out, it was night. Judas walked out into the entangled darkness of those who rejected Jesus and who plotted his death. Judas walked away from the one who is the light of the world. When we think of this thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, we think of the foot washing and of how that extraordinary gesture symbolised Jesus giving his life for us on the cross. We think, too, of how Jesus said that, by this act, he has given the disciples an example to follow. Jesus washed the feet of each of them. He even washed the feet of Judas, while knowing that Judas would walk out into the darkness of betrayal.
But after the foot washing Jesus does something else. He dips the morsel of bread into his dish and offers it to Judas. This is no small thing. It is the sign of his love. The foot washing and the dipping of the morsel were performed by Jesus to further unpack what the Evangelist meant by the comment, ‘having loved his own in the world, he loved them to the end’ (13:1). ‘To the end’ could mean to the moment of his death. It could mean the accomplishment of God’s saving purpose. But, and perhaps most poignantly, it could mean that he loved them, even knowing that Judas would betray him, Peter would deny him, and all of them would abandon him. Such is the bitterness of his agony of the cross. The sound of the betrayer’s footfall fades as he walks into the night, while in the room the heartbeat of God’s love is heard all the more clearly.
When Judas had gone out Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified.’ He spoke not of the future but of the dark events which were about to unfold. The crucifixion is an ugly, grisly agony of pain, of breathlessness, of torn flesh, spilt blood and death. Woven through it like branches of thorn are the anguish, the mocking, the rejection, the betrayal, the denial and the abandonment. But in this darkness, Jesus says that we behold the glory of God. This is because to behold the glory of God, is see God as God is: namely, love. We behold him in so far as we can see the perfection of his love in the loving obedience of the Son for the Father and their love for a sinful world.
This is the context in which he gives us the new commandment. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (13:34). This is how people will know us as his disciples. We disciples are commanded to love one another, which is far more difficult that it may sound, for he doesn’t command that we love those whom we choose. He commands his disciples to love each other. We don’t choose who becomes a disciple. The Lord chooses them. This new commandment is surely meant to put before us what an adequate response to his great love might begin to look like in those, who by the gift of faith, have beheld his glory in dark agony of the cross. It is to walk in the opposite direction to Judas. It is to move from darkness towards the light, which the darkness can never overcome.
At the end of Mass, we are sent out. It is worth pondering our ‘going out’. We do not go out into the night as Judas did, but we do go out into a world where darkness remains and it can draw us. Yet we belong to the light, which the darkness cannot overcome. John’s Gospel portrays Judas as one caught up in the work of Satan. Satan enters him and takes him over. Our ‘going out’ is about getting caught up in the work of God, works of goodness and light, works that are from truth, that give life, and that have the shape of his way. Yet before this ‘going out’, we must strive to love one another. This loving of each other is nothing less than loving as he has loved us. It is the very ground of our witness to him in the world today.
Image: detail from a painting of Christ washing St Peter’s feet, from the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona, © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 3.0