What Jesus is calling us to is a new way of life and a new way of loving.
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. —John 13:34-35
As I was growing up in East Tennessee, I never imagined that my life and vocation would take me to so many places. Whether for school or ministry, I’ve lived in nine different states since I entered religious life in 2002 and, even now, as I serve in Southern Arizona, I find myself living in a part of the country that I have come to love, but which was never a place I anticipated I would be called to.
And, of course, each time I’ve moved there have been goodbyes. And that’s never easy, no matter how excited we might be about what comes next. Love and gratitude are clouded by grief and sometimes even feelings of disappointment or regret of goods left undone and missed opportunities.
Leave-taking is a difficult but very real part of human life. And it’s difficult precisely because of the love and investment we feel for those whose lives and stories have become interwoven with our own.
In many ways, this reality is what’s at the heart of this Sunday’s Gospel. Although we are celebrating the Fifth Sunday of Easter, this Sunday’s passage from the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel takes us back to Holy Thursday evening as Jesus explains to the disciples why he washed their feet (cf. John 13:1-20).
In our Gospel this Sunday we hear his “I love you” to those who had played—and would continue to play—an essential role in his saving work.
And yet, we have to remember that Jesus’ love for his friends and followers isn’t a greeting card sentiment, because his love is inseparable from who he is and from his mission. This is why the act of washing of the disciples’ feet is really a perfect symbol of his self-giving love. Jesus models exactly what he expects of each of us.
Joe Paprocki and D. Todd Williamson reflected on this in their book Great Is the Mystery:
After three years of public ministry, after three years of teaching and apprenticing his disciples, Jesus summed up his message with one encounter which, at least for one early Christian community, became the hallmark of all discipleship. On the night before he died, while sharing a meal with his disciples, he wrapped a towel around himself and, as the story says, “he … began to wash the disciples’ feet.” He didn’t lecture them on what it means to be his disciple. He didn’t deliver a treatise on the “Seven Habits of Effective Discipleship.” He didn’t give them a list of dos and don’ts to memorize and spit back at him. Instead, he invited them to an encounter with mystery … He taught his disciples a “dance” (“I have set you an example”) and then instructed them to follow his steps (“that you also should do as I have done to you.”).
When we hear Jesus saying to the disciples (and to us!) that we are to love one another, he is telling us to love others with his love—a love that embodies mercy and gives life.
As a way of helping us understand the power of this Jesus-love more fully, our liturgy this Sunday gives us a vision of a “new heaven and a new earth,” symbolizing what is possible for us here and now if we are willing to live out Jesus’ mandate to love others—to love all—with his love: every tear will be wiped away, “and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (cf. the Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5a).
The invitation for us is clear: we are to love others as Jesus has loved us, in dynamic and life-giving ways. We should also recognize that what Jesus is calling us to is a new way of life and a new way of loving that is worthy of the “new Jerusalem.” The wonderful gift in this is that when we love others, there is no leave-taking, because, in the end, love cannot ignore, divide, or exclude.
How have you experienced the transforming love of Jesus in your own life? When has this love come to you through the words and actions of others?How does today’s Gospel challenge you to open your heart to the needs of others?When have you experienced the love of another person—and the love of God—in and through the actions of another person?
Words of Wisdom: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, nor anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters … The Savior urged us to practice this love that transcends the law as the foundation of true devotion to God.”—St. Cyril of Alexandria