John 13:31-33a, 34-35 [54C]
In the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus issues a “new commandment” to his disciples: “love one another.” Living out this love commandment would become one of the defining characteristics that guided and grounded the early church.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the concluding comments by Luke on Paul’s first missionary journey (13:4—14:27). This final leg of their missionary journey is actually quite shocking. Paul and Barnabas’ preaching in the city of Lystra ended in near disaster: “Some Jews from Antioch and Iconium,” two cities they evangelized before arriving in Lystra, “stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19). In the opening remarks in today’s reading, we hear that Paul and Barnabas actually “returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch” (emphasis added). Despite being nearly stoned to death, Paul went back to those cities (after recovering) in order to make a bold statement: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Paul’s courageous witness to the faith and unconditional commitment to his call from the risen Lord to bring the good news to the Gentiles “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Luke preserves these details about the life of Paul that allow us to see why Paul became so legendary even during his own lifetime. Paul’s willingness to endure suffering while loving even his enemies provided a role model for believers in the early church.
Throughout the Easter season, we have been hearing from the Revelation of John. For these final three Sundays, the second readings will offer details from John’s final vision. In today’s reading, John sees a new heaven and a new earth where God and humans dwell together in everlasting peace. The new heavenly Jerusalem is beautifully adorned, and the faithful live in perfect union with God and the Lamb: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” There are no tears, no more pain, and even no more death. The “old order” has passed away, and God declares, “Behold, I make all things new.” In John’s apocalyptic worldview, all of history is being orchestrated to this end. For those who have kept the faith during the times of distress (cataclysmic events anticipated by John to occur within the lifetime of the Johannine congregations), a new heaven and a new earth awaits them as an eternal reward.
The Gospel reading comes from the opening scene of John’s farewell discourse, John 13–17. In the immediate aftermath of washing the feet of the disciples and announcing that Judas would betray him, Jesus began to speak about himself (as Son of Man) and God in terms of being “glorified.” The word “glory” is first mentioned in the Prologue (“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth,” 1:14). Between the Prologue and the farewell discourse, John uses the term “glory” or “glorified” a total of twelve times. In today’s reading, Jesus speaks of the “glory” of God made manifest in his upcoming victory over death on the cross: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Jesus then invites the disciples to share in this glory between the Father and the Son by following his “new commandment” to love one another just as he has loved them. Jesus uses the term agapē to describe the depth of love he is requiring of those who would call themselves his “disciples.”
In today’s readings, Paul models this depth of love that Jesus expects of his followers. And John (in the Revelation of John) challenges members of his congregations to do the same.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz
Studying God’s Word