All you need is love was the Beatles’ happy chant from that 1967 “Summer of Love”. Something has told me since 1967 that love is not all you need. As much as the world was crazy over the Beatles the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and in some circles is still crazy over the Beatles, their “Summer of Love” ought not to be ours either in type or amount. So today, when the Gospel according to Saint John shows us Jesus’ commandment to love one another, we cannot add Jesus as a kind of fifth Beatle: George, John, Paul, Ringo, and Jesus. The commandment “to love one another” is indeed good news and is good news for eternity, not just the summer of ‘67.
The kind of love in Jesus’ commandment is a love that is challenging, evangelical, joyful, comforting and the way to glorify God. To understand the depth and meaning of the kind of love Jesus commands we need to read this Gospel passage as part of much larger portion of Saint John’s Gospel. When we do, we see that Jesus is really giving some last-minute, and truly gentle yet strong instructions to his disciples. These words of comfort are given just before Jesus is about to reach the end of his earthly work.
It will be helpful to read chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17 as a whole. You will get a better picture of how Jesus loves, how God the Father loves and is love. We will also learn what Jesus expects of his disciples, you and me, when we have to witness to his love. The whole section is a kind of job description for the faithful disciple. We learn that if we are going to love the way Jesus wants us to love, then we are going to have to believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father; the way, the truth, and the life. We are going to have to keep the Commandments. We are going to have to receive the Holy Spirit. We are going to have bear fruit which will require us being pruned from time to time. We are going to have to witness to others and show this love to others. Some will have to die for the Faith, and as a result, we will know true joy even in this world.
In the end there is a joy and comfort because the end and purpose of all things is union with God. That’s what we ought to be after and that is what we gain by loving this way. At the end of this section of Jesus’ instructions and words of comfort, Jesus prays to the Father for the disciples, but now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. Then Jesus prays for the whole church, the glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. The whole purpose of this kind of love is the glory of God.
From Jesus’ instructions, to love as a Christian is joyful, yet it is not without its challenges and conditions. Jesus gives the disciples that intimate nature of his kind of love. The unity Jesus has with the Father and the Holy Spirit only comes out of this kind of love. For us to live this kind of love will mean knowing Jesus not as a servant, but even more intimately, as a friend. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my father I have made known to you.
The difference between a servant and a friend in the way Jesus is using them here, is a matter of degree. How closely do you want to follow Jesus? It’s easier to follow him as servant than it is to be a friend. Being a servant of Jesus means that one subjects oneself to following all the instructions. There is no bondage in that type of servanthood, but according to Jesus, he prefers friendship; a type of friendship that is so loving that there is nothing Jesus does not know about you and you know Jesus so well that your whole life follows his.
Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite nun and mystical theologian, seems to have approached this kind of friendship with God through her devotion to Jesus. It seems that Saint Teresa was a little bit of a woman, but no shrinking violet. One night during a terrible rain- and wind-storm she was trying to make her way back to the convent. She stumbled and fell off a steep embankment and landed fully in the mud. She looked up to God and chided him, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them! She knew him so well that she spoke to him as if she knew him as a friend.
With this kind of love, and to show this kind of love, Jesus says we will require trimming away, or pruning, those parts of our lives that hinder our growth. The fruit-bearing disciples are those that allow themselves to be chided, corrected, forgiven, and show fruits of repentance. The love of Christ comes to live in the soul of those who continually seek forgiveness.
True Christian love is also that which brings others to unity with God the Father and his son. When others see the lives of truly loving Christians, they are drawn into a life with Christ. I’ve seen this evidenced in the lives of some young people. Two years ago a promotional video was produced for saint Michael’s conference, a week-long educational conference for high school and college students. I was surprised to hear in the video a student describing why he was drawn to the conference and why he keeps returning to the conference. He said, and I quote, “I saw older kids my first couple of years, so happy, smiling. I saw them all playing with each other and just some great Christians. Also the way they act in church, I (thought) “I want to be like that one day”. This tells me that even some of the youngest among us are aware of this special relationship with Christ and want to be part of it.
So Christian love, when it is shown forth, brings others into the life of the Trinity. Just by seeing the way Christians behave toward other Christians and toward those who are not Christians; how that loving one another is actually a vehicle for bringing others to Christ. Our lives of Christian love ought to be a witness for the life of Jesus while we are here in the world. Others should want what we have. If they do, then that is one way in which our lives are bearing fruit.
So it’s the glorification of God the Father almighty that is our end and purpose here in the world and our ultimate end and purpose. At the end of what I call this “comforting” section of Saint John’s Gospel Jesus prays that very thing; that God should be glorified and that Jesus himself would be glorified. Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. This answers the questions we may have about why we’re alive; what we’re supposed to be doing; and how we’re to treat others. We are created for God and his glorification.
Thank that same God the Father for giving us his love and teaching us how to love. We would not glorify him as we should without that love. Living with the resurrected Jesus, and trying to love him as he showed us, brings the comfort, strength, forgiveness, and order to our lives that we need. If you have ever wondered what you are supposed to be doing with your life, try abiding in the love of Jesus first. If you have ever wondered what this all means, or had any of those other questions pop into your head about the meaning of life, or where you fit in; if you have ever spent some time wondering how to carve out a life that is satisfying and fulfilling here in the world, you have the perfect guide and true friend in Jesus. There is some good news.
Let the comforting words of Jesus help you. They say glorify God first. Extol him, give him the praise and honor he deserves, thank him for giving you his son and the Holy Spirit who teach you how to love. These thanksgivings are collected, as any good collect would do, in our collect for today, pour into our heart such love toward thee, that we, loving thee in all things and above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.