Saturday, April 16, 2016

Glory and Love

The gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-35, is the end of the gospel reading for Maundy Thursday, so if this text sounds familiar it's because we just heard it 4 weeks ago.  Be that as it may, this text is a good chance to see once again how John lifts up the Cross as the place of Jesus' glory, as well as the ultimate expression of God's love.  The Cross does not look like glory and it doesn't look like love, but as we ponder it we see it is both.

(The following questions are taken from the method I have laid out in my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  In order to understand the function of the Word here we need to understand the context.  "Now" refers to the act of betrayal by Judas, as events are set into motion which will culminate in the Cross.  So when Jesus says "Now the Son of man has been glorified," it is a word of Gospel. This is the Word functioning to tell us how much God loves us:  God loves us this much, that the Son will die for the world.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law in this passage, no word which shows us clearly our need for Christ.  The whole need for the Cross is, of course, caught up in the brokenness of the world, and particularly humanity, but this text does not make that clear.  If we wish to bring that forward, other texts such as the Second Reading from Revelation 21 will be needed.  There we hear that "death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  We are the people the Word addresses. In this case we are the "little children" to whom Jesus speaks. We can not go to the Cross with him, but we are commanded to love one another, just as Christ has loved us.  In no way should we understand this loving as a matter of degree, as though we can love to the degree that Christ loved.  No, there is but One person who will go to the Cross.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience, which is the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus," is very clear here:  Love one another.  This is what we do in response to the Cross.  This is what we do to follow Jesus. This is what faith working through love looks like.

5.  Exegetical Work:  I am always grateful to Raymond Brown for his classic commentary on the gospel of John.  Here are a few excerpts from his commentary on this text:  "Since the disciples cannot follow Jesus as he leaves this life, they receive a command that, if obeyed, will keep the spirit of Jesus alive among them as they continue their life in the world." (The Gospel According to John, p. 610).  "...because the generosity of God's love could not be fully known until He had given His own Son, in another way the Christian concept of love stemming from Jesus is new.  Verse 35 says that even outsiders will recognize the distinctiveness of Christian love."  (p. 614)  Another source to understand the newness of the love shown on the Cross is Kittel's discussion under the word for command.  He says this:  "The new factor is not the law of love as such, nor a new degree of love, but its new Christological foundation.  They are to actualise the basic love of Jesus.  Thus the loving self-giving of Jesus is the root and power of the new 'agape'." (Theo. Dict. of the NT, II, 553).

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  I am grateful for Cathy Lessmann's insightful working of this text, archived under 2013 Year C Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Easter.  She works with the human concept of glory and shows how our obsession with self-glorification estranges us from God and ultimately leads us into a 'black hole.' But Christ, because he is 'out of this world' has the power to rescue us from our lost state and works glory in us, until we also 'glow' with the light Christ gives.  Lessmann's work and the work of many others can be found at

Blessings on your proclamation!

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