To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 14:21b-27; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a,34-35
The Thirty Fifth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was held at the beginning of the year 2008. In Decree 2 titled “The Fire that Kindles Other Fires” a line reads thus: “Our lives must provoke the questions, “Who are you that you do these things…. and that you do them in this way”?” Through this the members of the Society of Jesus are exhorted to “manifest especially in the ceaseless world of noise and stimulation – a strong sense of the sacred inseparably joined to involvement in the world.” These words can well be used as a summary of the challenge of the Gospel text of today.
The background to the verses of the Gospel text is the episode in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It is a gesture that is not merely symbolic, or a lesson in humility, but a prophetic gesture. Jesus is showing through this prophetic act not what his disciples are expected to do but what they are expected to be. Jesus wanted their actions to stem from their being. Today’s verses begin after Judas has gone out. He has decided not to be what Jesus expects him to be. He has decided to opt out. It is in this context and even in the midst of impending betrayal and deceitfulness that Jesus gives a new command. To be sure the command per se is not new. It forms part of the Torah in the Old Testament. What is new about it is that the commandment to love has its roots in the incarnation. God’s love for the world was so great that God could only send the Son as a perfect manifestation of that love. The second reading from the book of Revelation confirms this when it affirms that because of the incarnation, the dwelling of God is on earth and among mortals. God dwells with humans and manifests his love to them in wiping away their tears, and taking away their crying, mourning and pain. The disciples are asked to enter into that same love. They will show that they have entered into this love by keeping this command to love. It is a sure and tangible sign of the disciples abiding in Jesus. This love will also be a sign to the world of who the disciples are and why they do what they do.
The first Christian community continued to give this sign because of which many who experienced it were drawn to their way of life. The first reading of today narrates how Paul and his companions were able to transform the lives of many not merely because of their preaching the Word, but because they lived out the Word they preached. They were unafraid to continue to love even in the midst of persecution and rejection. What mattered to them was that love be proclaimed. What mattered to them was that the love that God had made incarnate in Christ be made known to all. What mattered was that no matter how arduous the road ahead or how terrifying the terrain, they would continue to persevere and love. They were thus instrumental in giving a glimpse to those who encountered them of the new heaven and new earth that the second reading of today speaks of. The first heaven and earth which was a heaven and earth that had not had the privilege of witnessing and experiencing the incarnation was no more. It had passed away because of the coming of Christ and his gift on unconditional love. The new heaven and new earth inaugurated by Christ’s coming was a heaven and earth that the first Christian community experienced in Christ and wanted to share with others. It was a situation in which there would be no sea and therefore no negatives because all that was negative would fade with the coming of the positive of unrestricted and unreserved love.
Today more than two thousand years after the inauguration of that new heaven and new earth, the challenge remains. The Christian community of today has to waken to this challenge and call to give a glimpse of what was through the coming of Christ and so what can be. It will do this when individual members of the community take on the responsibility of becoming Christ to those who do not know him or have not yet encountered him. It will do this when the community as a whole is united in that love which Christ brought with his coming. It will do this when those who encounter Christians today ask, “Who are you that you do these things… and that you do them in this way?”