Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26,34-35,44-48
The gift of the Holy Spirit comes to Cornelius and his household, and they are baptized.
A song of praise for God’s salvation
1 John 4:7-10
God is love.
Jesus commands his disciples to love one another.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today’s Gospel follows immediately after the Gospel proclaimed last week, in which Jesus taught that he was the vine and that his disciples were the branches. In the example of the vine and the branches, we learned that our union with Jesus will lead to fruitful service. Today’s reading extends this teaching to describe the kind of service that Christians are called upon to offer to others.
When John wrote this Gospel, his community was influenced by a set of religious beliefs called Gnosticism. It appears that one of John’s intentions was to distinguish Christian belief from the beliefs held by the Gnostics. Evidence of this can be found in today’s Gospel.
One of the tenets of Gnostic teaching was the importance of knowledge, or gnosis, as the determining aspect of faith. We read today’s Gospel as a response to this teaching. In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus affirm that he is known by the Father and that his disciples will know the Father by knowing Jesus. In this passage, however, Jesus reminds his disciples that this knowledge is to be expressed in love. Those who know Jesus well—and Jesus says that his disciples do know him—will love one another. Knowledge leads to love, which leads to action. John reminds his community that Jesus taught that love is the sign of a true disciple and, thus, a true Christian. Even more, a true disciple shows a particular kind of love, sacrificial love.
In the Greek, there are two words for love that are used in this passage. The first is agape. The second is philia. The first word is most often used to describe love for other persons and for God. It is understood as the highest and most perfect kind of love. The second word is used to describe the affection of friendship. In this context, John appears to use these words as synonyms. The root of the Greek word for friend comes from this second term for love, philia. By using this word, Jesus transforms the terms of his relationship with his disciples and redefines for them their relationship with God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, faith in God made one a servant of God.
Here Jesus teaches that his relationship to his disciples is based on friendship, not servitude.
Another aspect of Gnostic belief taught that a believer was an elect person, chosen and set apart from the world. John reminds his community that Jesus also taught that a disciple is one who had been chosen—one who had been chosen by Jesus. To be chosen by Jesus, however, is not to be set apart from the world. Instead, to be chosen by Jesus is to be sent to serve the world as he did. The disciples of Jesus were chosen and were sent into the world to bear fruit by serving others, by sacrificing for others, in love.
This reading, like last week’s, is part of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse. In the context of John’s Gospel, these words are spoken before Jesus’ Crucifixion. We read his instruction to the disciples in light of his death and Resurrection. We know that Jesus himself gives us the greatest example of the kind of love and service that he teaches to his disciples. He has, in fact, laid down his life for his friends, for his disciples, and for us. Through his death and Resurrection, we have received the grace to love others as Jesus has commanded.