Veronica Lawson RSM
It is not easy to keep on loving companions and friends who let us down, and yet that is the measure of discipleship according to today’s gospel. The literary context is Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Jesus is troubled in spirit (v. 21) at this meal. He knows that membership of the group is no guarantee of fidelity or of sustained goodness. All are capable of betrayal. In fact, one of his closest companions, Judas Iscariot, is about to hand him over to the authorities and ultimately to death, while another, Peter, will protest undying loyalty and proceed to deny him three times (13:37-38). Though troubled and no doubt disappointed by the failure of his friends and the dire consequences for himself, he continues to show them the way of discipleship.
Jesus has washed the feet of his foot-weary table companions, and has thus provided an example of what it means to love. What he has done for them, they are to do for one another. In other words, no form of service is too menial for a Christian disciple and privileged exemption from service of others has no place in gospel living.
The betrayer’s departure from the meal, he informs them, signals the imminent arrival of the moment of glorification. Events have been set in train that will culminate in God’s victory over evil and death. But this is not the end of their association with Jesus. He will leave them very soon and they are to continue on the way of discipleship. His legacy to them is ‘a new commandment’ – to love one another just as he has loved them. If they do that, everyone will know they are his disciples.
This new commandment to love one another is also Jesus’ legacy to us, the successors of those early disciples. Continued acceptance of friends behaving badly; loving care of the broken-hearted, of the sick and the weary; attentiveness to those grieving the loss of loved ones or of livelihood; a restorative gesture or word; a change in lifestyle or a tree planted in the interests of planetary survival – these are the ways of love and of discipleship in our times.
-Veronica Lawson RSM