Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17;
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy
The Words of Divine Love Asking to Love
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ words that we heard last Sunday. We are therefore invited to be in the mystical atmosphere of the Last Supper and Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to His intimate disciples, to welcome and cherish the profound and moving message of Christ, the One who “loved his own in the world and loved them to the end, when his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” (Jn 13:1). Even today as a week ago, these few lines of commentary that follow would like to propose just a few useful points for further meditation on these profound pronouncements of Christ that we have heard.
1. “If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commandments”
Having declared to His disciples that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that He is the visible face of the invisible Father God, Jesus now speaks of the love His disciples should have for Him, indicating with authority in what it concretely consists: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Such a “rule” seems to be very close to Jesus’ heart, for He will reiterate again toward the end of His brief discourse, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14:21; also 15:10). It is therefore necessary to delve deeper into this message, emphasizing at least three important aspects.
Firstly, as we remember from the introduction, the context is completely wrapped up in Jesus’ love for his disciples and all humanity, which reaches its climax in the sacrifice of the Cross. Jesus therefore loves first, as the Father who first “so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16). Rather, He is now the concrete and visible expression of God’s invisible love. As such, Jesus invites His disciples in the New Covenant era to respond concretely to this love, just as God demanded from His people Israel love and observance of the commandments, after freeing them from slavery in Egypt and making the Sinai covenant with them, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today” (Dt 6:4-6).
Secondly, the commandments to be observed, as well as the concrete expression of love for Jesus, do not refer only to precepts or rules of a legal and moral nature, but concern the entirety of the teaching He left to the disciples. It is therefore about observing all of His words, or simply His Word, as is made clear by Jesus Himself later on: “Whoever loves me will keep my word […]. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (Jn 14:23,24). Moreover, all the commandments and teachings of Jesus find their culmination in the new commandment of love, pointed out by Him from the very beginning of the Farewell Discourse: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). (It is Love that calls for love!) Besides, this is also in keeping with what is stated about the observance of the divine commandments in the OT, which, on the one hand, primarily involve the Words or Word of God revealed to Moses and the prophets, and on the other hand, are enclosed in the dual commandment of love for God and neighbor.
Finally, in light of the foregoing, keeping Jesus’ commandments/words is not only about the action of performing what He recommends, but also and above all implies a constant and jealous keeping every word of the Master who alone has “words of eternal life,” as Peter professed on behalf of all His disciples of all times (Jn 6:68). Jesus Himself invited, indeed, implored the disciples to abide in His words, and that means abiding in Him and His love, to bear the enduring fruit in mission (cf. Jn 15:4-10). But do we, his disciples-missionaries today, really love Jesus? Are we always immersed in His words and thus in the sweet love of Him and for Him?
2. Waiting for “Another Advocate,” “the Spirit of truth”
Just in the perspective of obeying and keeping Jesus’ words, He introduces to the disciples (for the first time in His Farewell Discourse) the figure of “another Advocate,” “to be with you always.” Advocate means He-who-is-called-to-be-alongside, Consoler. We know that it is the Holy Spirit, but here He is immediately defined as “the Spirit of truth,” because, as explained later, He will help the disciples to remember and understand more and more all the words of Jesus, the first Master and Advocate for His disciples (cf. 1Jn 2:1). Indeed, it is stated in Jn 14:26: “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you”; and again in Jn 16:13: “But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”
In this way, every disciple of Jesus is called to know and recognize this Spirit of truth who is actually the Spirit of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. Here, Jesus’ statement about the mutual relationship between the Spirit and the disciples reveals a fact: “you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” Such revelation, however, is at the same time a call to his own to be open to the Spirit and to always cultivate such “permanence” of the Spirit in them, in contrast to that “world” that unfortunately rejects Jesus’ words and his love. The Spirit will be precisely the gift of the Risen One to his disciples for new life in Christ. And the Spirit’s presence in the disciples will also be a help and a guarantee of their abiding in Jesus, in His teaching and love for Him, because He is God’s Spirit of Love. Such presence of the Spirit will then be a sure guide and constant inspiration for the disciples to continue the same mission of Jesus, Master and Lord, as the deacon Philip and other apostles, that is, sent forth, in Samaria (cf. Acts 8:5-17; first reading). In such a Spirit, believers in Jesus will certainly know how to be “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” that is in them, and this “with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear” (cf. 1Pt 3:15-18; Second reading), because everything will be done in the Spirit of Love.
3. “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him”
This last sentence of Jesus’ discourse sounds as if it were a condition, in return for which every man will be loved by God and Jesus. In fact, as pointed out previously (in the first point of the commentary), the unconditional and preventive love of God the Father and the Son to all mankind “to the end” of the supreme self-sacrifice on the Cross has already been affirmed. In other words, Christ’s love, which precedes, calls “with gentleness and reverence” for man’s adherence and faith, so that he, once the door of his heart is opened, may receive the fullness of divine love and manifestation “will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Indeed, as Jesus will explain soon after, it is not so much the divine manifestation external to man who opens himself to Love, but the reality of “Trinitarian indwelling” in the soul by God the Father, Son with the Spirit: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23).
It is not, therefore, about some particular experience reserved for a select few, but about the universal reality of every baptized person who, by virtue of his or her Baptism, becomes the Temple of the Holy Spirit and thus of the living God. Thus, there is a glimpse of the way of realization of God’s presence in the midst of his people, as foretold to Israel through the prophet Zechariah: “Now, I am coming to dwell in your midst” (Zec 2:14).
With this in mind, before finally ascending to the Father, the risen Christ will assure His disciples, sent by Him to all nations, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Thus, every disciple-missionary of Christ will always be able to say, like St. Paul the apostle, “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). We pray that all of us baptized, called to be disciple-missionaries, may grow more and more in our universal vocation to be temples and witnesses of the God, living and great in love, so that we may be able to pass on to all in need that love of God in Christ, on which we are nourished every day in communion with His Word and His Body and Blood offered for us. Amen.