The Gospel According to John is divided into two major parts. The first part is from chapter 1 to chapter 12, and the second part is from chapter 13 to chapter 21. In the first part, Jesus used signs (miracles) and discourses (talks) to foretell the work he was going to accomplish in the world and the glory that would be given him after his resurrection. First, he would provide a sign or miracle; then he would follow it up with his talk. For example, in Chapter 6, before the discourse on the Eucharist: Jesus the Bread of Life, there was first the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.

In the second part (which we read from in today’s Gospel passage), his hour has come, in which he will realize all that was announced. And just like in the first part, the farewell speeches or discourses of Jesus in Chapters 14 to 17 have, as a point of departure, the extraordinary act of the “washing of the feet.” This gesture contains two lessons: (i) The need to purify ourselves before participating in the Supper of the Lord (the Eucharistic Celebration), and (ii) How his followers are to practice the commitment of Love. Today’s Gospel passage deals with the second lesson, that is, the practice of love.

After the washing of the feet, Judas Iscariot ate his piece of bread, and as Scripture says, “Satan entered into him,” and he left them. At that point, the stage became clear. Judas had gone out, and the cross was already a certainty. Jesus realized that he only had a few hours before embracing the cross, and so he felt the strong need to dictate his last will. He began by addressing his apostles as “My children.” Children usually consider the last words of their parents on their death beds as sacred. It was a period of intense emotions. Jesus wanted what he was about to say to make a deep and lasting impression in their minds. So he presented his last will, which he would repeat two more times to stress its importance. The first time in today’s Gospel (John 13: 34), the second time in John 15: 12, then the third time in John 15: 17. He said, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another just as I have loved you.” These are the words of a dying Man that must be treated as sacred.

Jesus called his last will a new commandment. But what is new about this commandment when already in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19: 18) it is written, “Love your neighbor as yourself”? The new thing here is in the second part, “just as I have loved you.” The new thing is in the yardstick, the measuring stick, or the litmus test for love. The Old Testament asked us to use ourselves as the measure of love. But since we do not love ourselves as we should, Jesus had to upgrade the standard. We love people who are successful, pleasant, rich, beautiful, handsome, and intelligent or deserve it. As such, if we do not deserve it, we don’t even love ourselves. See what happens when we make mistakes, or look silly or do something shameful: we often begin to hate ourselves.

Therefore, Jesus has asked us to love like him. He loved to the extent of praying for his executioners; “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” He loves those who do not deserve it. He washed the feet of Judas Iscariot even though Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him. This kind of love is built not on what we can get, but on what we can give. The call is to love not because of but in spite of.  Even those who do not wish us well, it challenges us not to wish them evil, but to pray for them, and not to let their evil influence us negatively.

There was a Monk who took a walk to the beach for his meditation. While at the Beach, he saw a scorpion that was being carried away by the waves into the ocean. He bent down and used his bare left hand to save the scorpion, but he was stung by the scorpion. As a reflex, he threw the scorpion back into the water and nursed his finger. After that, he bent down again to pick up the scorpion and was stung for the second time. He threw the scorpion back into the ocean, nursed his finger, and went down the third time, but he was still not spared by the scorpion. While he was going down for the fourth time to save the scorpion, someone who was watching him at a distance came to him and said, “Monk, are you out of your mind! You attempted to save the scorpion three times, and it stung you three times, yet you are going down for the fourth time to rescue the scorpion.” The Monk said in reply, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting; it is my nature to love. Why should I give up my nature to love just because it is the nature of the scorpion to sting?” Dear Friends, please, do not try this at home. I am not encouraging you to go picking up scorpions with your bare hands. However, listen to what Jesus said at the end, “It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognize you as my disciples.” So, even amid people who sting always, we are challenged to keep our Christian identity intact. Beware of all the scorpions around, do not let them make you change your identity. Just because somebody considers you their enemy does not mean that you have to return the favor. Someone else’s bitterness must not take away your sweetness.

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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