In the Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus gives his disciples the most important commandment of discipleship – love one another as I have loved you. The readings for the fifth, sixth and seventh Sundays of Easter are always drawn from John chapters 15-17, which is part of the Last Supper discourse (chapters 13-17 of John).
The Great Holy Week Discourses in Matthew and John
Matthew’s Gospel has five discourses, the last of which is the longest. Last year, I referred to the final discourse as “the Sermon in the Temple.” Several month’s worth of Sunday readings in cycle A (2011, 2014) are drawn from this “Sermon in the Temple.” This discourse occurs during the Holy Week in Jerusalem. It spans Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his preaching in the Temple, and his prediction of the second coming and the last judgment.
Similarly, the Gospel of John gives us an account of another great discourse by Jesus that takes place during the Holy Week. This time, the discourse takes place not in the Temple, but rather in the Upper Room, during the Last Supper. This Johannine discourse spans five chapters (13-17). Thanks to Matthew’s and John’s Gospel, we have a great deal of information not just about the events of the Passover Week, but also about what Jesus said to the crowds in the Temple, and to the disciples at the Last Supper.
John Chapters 13-17.
We begin the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (13:1-20). He also predicts that one of the twelve will betray him (13:21). Then Jesus proceeds with his Last Supper “talk” in chapter 14. Jesus’ reflection in chapters 14 to 17 is very difficult to summarize. In these four chapters, Jesus speaks of the Trinity, but the primary emphasis is on the relationship between Jesus and the Father. He speaks of God the Father throughout chapters 14 to 17. There are far fewer references to the Holy Spirit, (the role of the Holy Spirit becomes a much more dominant theme in Acts of the Apostles) but the Counselor or the Paraclete is specifically mentioned in 14:16-17 and 15:26.
The Analogy of Divine Love in Chapter 15
If there is an over-arching theme in the discourse, the first part is that Jesus encourages the twelve Apostles to remain close to Jesus in the same way that Jesus is close to God, his own Father. For example, in 15:1, Jesus says I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-dresser. In 15:4, Jesus says very simply, abide in me, and I in you. Jesus continues to reinforce this point, stating as the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. And then, to complete the anology, Jesus says love one another as I love you. Actually, the analogy is explicit: God loves Jesus: Jesus loves the disciples: the disciples should love one another.
The second theme in chapter 15 is that Jesus exhorts his disciples is to be resolute and keep the faith in the face of coming tribulation.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father”s commandments
and remain in his love.”
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”