by Mark Burghard
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
This particular Gospel reading is remarkably straightforward in its delivery. During the Lenten season, we read many of Jesus’ parables and sermons. They involve elaborate metaphors and have thematic threads that run quite deeply. A metaphor precedes this passage: Jesus calls himself the vine, and us the branches, telling us to remain in him to bear fruit. However, as soon as we reach verse seven, which begins the portion we read in Mass, Jesus shifts his language to be more direct. He tells us outright, “if you remain in me and my words in you, you may ask for whatever you please and you will get it.” There is no doubt that we should take immense joy in this message. Jesus illustrates here the depth of God’s love for us: that he would give us anything for the sake of our well-being.
That said, as with many of Jesus’ teachings, he asks something of us to make this promise come to fulfillment. Specifically, we are told that we must keep God’s commandments, just as Jesus has kept his father’s commandments, to remain in God’s love. Then he gives us our commandment: “love one another as I have loved you.”
This is the unmistakable call to radical love and self-giving that is at the core of what we believe as Catholics. Jesus shows us that this must be the unassailable center of our faith. That’s why he’s so straightforward in this passage. He wishes to leave no room for interpretation here. We are called to love as Jesus loved us; called to love so completely that we are willing to endure death, even death with tremendous suffering as Jesus did, for anyone. This may seem like a tremendously difficult task, but nonetheless, this is what God commands us to do. This is our faith.