The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2019
This Sunday’s Gospel reading comes from the first chapter in the section of John, known as “the book of Glory” (chapters 13-20) where we have several references to God and the Son of Man being glorified: both have been ‘glorified’ in each other (13:31) and in the future when God will ‘glorify’ the Son of Man (13:32). There is a flowing, dynamic movement in these verses between God and the Son of Man and this, together with their mutual focusing on each other, heightens our experience of the intimacy between them. This is further reinforced in the verb ‘to glorify’ (Greek δοξαζω) which, in its passive and active forms as used in these verses, reflects the giving and receiving of the respect, worth, value, honour and praise each has for and bestows on the other. This intimacy is further heightened by its literary context. Our reading begins, “after he had gone out,” which refers to Judas who has just left and is about to betray Jesus. Our reading is followed by Jesus’ prediction that Peter will deny him. This context serves to create a contrast between the relational dynamic between God and Jesus and the inability of Judas and Peter to reciprocate such love due to their own human frailty.
Our human frailty has potential to be resourced through Jesus’ “new commandment” which is usually translated as “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (13:34). However, we might wonder why Jesus describes this as “new” when it is already known from Leviticus 19:18 where we are asked to love our neighbour? The Greek can be translated alternatively as, “A new commandment I give to you, in order that you love one another.” This moves the emphasis to the next verse, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This shift in emphasis invites us to experience how Jesus models this dynamic of love and to do likewise. This sign of discipleship is reinforced in 15:12-14, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”
“New” is repeated several times in our second reading (Revelation 21:1-5) and is, on each occasion, linked with the verb “to see.” This reading concludes with the interjection ιδου (See! Behold! Look!) inviting us to pay attention to “all things’ being made new.” I am reminded of Augustine of Hippo’s phrase “ever ancient, ever new” and the possibility that we are being invited to see with more attentive eyes what is already known to us. From this perspective, Jesus is showing us how to see and modelling for us how we might love; pointing to what is in Scripture and supporting us in living it out.
For Reflection and Discussion:  What does it mean to love? What might block you from loving more freely?  How do you nourish an ongoing ‘newness’ in how you love others? How do this Sunday’s readings support you in this?
Bibliography: Friberg, Analytical Greek lexicon (Canada, 2005); Levine and Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011)
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