Love Comes First
John 14:15-21 - Jesus is telling us that love comes first, and out of that love we keep His commandments.
With Pentecost just two weeks away, it is easy to read today’s gospel and focus on Our Lord’s words about sending an “Advocate”. I’ll save our conversation on the Holy Spirit for another time. Instead, I would like to look at something arguably more pressing that Jesus seems to be driving at, not only in this passage, but throughout the Last Supper Discourse in John’s gospel. There are three lines in particular that I think help illuminate Christ’s point here.
A Simple Command
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15). Simple enough, right? Yet, this often gets twisted into a belief that following the rules is the most important part of being a good and faithful disciple. Or in other words, we think that our doing the right things, and doing them exactly the right way every time, all the time will make us love God more. “If I just do what I’m supposed to, I’ll love God and He will love me.” This is how a slave thinks, and friends, that is not what Jesus is inviting you and I to be. In the very next chapter, He says as clearly as possible so that there can be no mistake about it,
“I no longer call you slaves...I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15).
Jesus is telling us that love comes first, and out of that love we keep His commandments. Not because we have to, for that is a slavish heart, but because we are in love and want to, for that is a free heart. We follow His commandments because as men and women who have put love of Christ first, it becomes the only way we feel we can give our loving response to Him who first loved us.
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (Jn 14:21).
Now, I’ll admit it seems that Jesus is saying that in order to love Him in the first place it means following His commandments. This begs the question: What is Our Lord’s commandment? Is it to pray the rosary everyday? Is it to pray for 30 minutes a day, or go to adoration three times a week? Is it to go on a service trip to help a poor community in another country? All of these are good things to be sure! We should strive always to be more generous with Jesus and others in prayer and in service. As good as they are, though, Jesus commands something else first: Love. Love is not stagnant, of course, it moves! It is directed toward the other for the good of the other for their own sake. So we can say that in a way, love demands action. What is that action? Again, let’s look at what Jesus says.
Labor of Love
“I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (Jn 14:20). On its own, these words from Our Lord can sound like confusing theological jargon. When put into the broader context of what He is saying, however, His meaning becomes clear. In the next chapter, Jesus says, “Remain in me,” and again, “remain in my love” (Jn. 15:4,9). His word here is an order, a commandment to remain. So many of us think that the best way to imitate Christ is to do the things we think are pious or will make us holy. Jesus, however, is here saying that our concern should be first and foremost to remain in Him with the same spirit of abandonment He exhibits as the One who has received everything from the Father. We need to remain in His Sacred Heart, pierced open out of such deep and selfless love for us that we might enter in. It is there that we are called to remain so as to be filled. Only then do we truly know the Other, Our Divine Lover Jesus Christ, and so respond to His love by pouring ourselves out like Him.
“This I command you: love one another” (Jn 15:17).
That is how our love takes action, by remaining.
Friends, we cannot be self-reliant. It does not work. Period. When we are self-reliant, we start to make our actions about us, and our own self-improvement to make us feel better about ourselves. Soon our love turns selfish and it is no longer love, and we can no longer keep Christ’s commandments if we don’t have love. We must rather remain in Jesus and rely on Him for everything, not just when it is convenient. He will provide. This requires a great deal of trust on our part, and we need to be patient with ourselves. Trusting is hard, plain and simple. It is the work of a lifetime and it is one of constant daily renewal in Christ. But we have nothing to fear, for we are not alone. Let us listen once more:
“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”