The New Commandment
Fifth Sunday of Easter. Fr Denis Geraghty preaches on the always-new commandment that we love one another.
The Gospel this Sunday begins ‘When Judas had gone out’. This is significant because when Judas went out it was to betray Jesus ‘it was night’. This reference to darkness provides a fitting context for a new commandment to love which Jesus will give to his disciples: for love dispels darkness.
We are reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘The light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’. So the darkness is to be dispelled by a new commandment ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’. But what is new about it? And why does this commandment remain new for the world two thousand years later?
First of all, because love is more than a commandment — it is a gift and it points to the gift of Jesus to the world by his Father. The glorification of Jesus through his passion and death will be passed on to us, and through his passion and death we too will be glorified with the glory given by the Father to Jesus. But more, through this the Father himself will be glorified.
Secondly, the new commandment of love is the expression of a covenant made with the world through the shedding of the blood of Jesus. The distinctiveness of this covenant is that it is an act of total self giving, an act of sublime generosity which reveals to us the Father’s generosity in giving us his Son.
If we keep this covenant of love, we are told, ‘all will know that you are my disciples’ — so we will in fact make the Spirit of Jesus present for all time to and within the world. But we need to ask, how do we appropriate this love? How are we changed by it? How does it become interiorized in us?
We need to reflect upon how John seems to understand the Trinitarian life of God, the relationship of the Son to the Father, and the relationship of the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit. The Trinitarian life of God is not something ‘static’ — it is intensely dynamic. The Father sends the Son, and through them both, the Holy Spirit. In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and, as it were, make a return journey. Through the Holy Spirit we are united with Jesus and we ‘return’ with him to the Father.
We are his brothers and sisters and like Jesus we can call God ‘Abba’ Father; and we are divinized, not of course by nature as with Jesus, but by a gift which enables us to love each other as the Father loves Jesus, and Jesus through the Holy Spirit loves us. This is the new covenant of love which is greater than any other covenant and remains new.
To give an example from our everyday lives: when we love deeply, we know those we love instinctively by a kind of co-naturality with them. Likewise with God, this occurs through the Word of God, the sacramental life of the Church and through the Holy Spirit. This co-naturality can extend to our relationship with Jesus, enabling us to make him present to the world.
We become a light that dispels the darkness of evil, a light to the world. ‘By this will all men know that you are my disciples.’ But it will cost, as it cost Jesus. ‘As the world hated me so also will the world hate you’. In John’s Gospel the glorification of Jesus comes through his cross: ‘When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.’ There is no glorification, then, without the cross — a sombre thought, perhaps, but ‘Greater love has no man, than he should lay down his life for his friends’. That is the great challenge of love.