A reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on John 15.9-11
It is often said that life is full of a series of “Goodbyes.” Goodbye is a contraction of the phrase “God be with you.” In saying goodbye, we commend others to God. When we bid goodbye to others, we are simply saying “Go with God.” Though it may be easier to give a welcome address, goodbye speeches are seldom easy, especially when it involves saying goodbye to someone we love dearly. This is because it is hard to capture the important moments or special memories of one’s experience of the other in a single goodbye speech.
Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel is a continuation of the goodbye speech from Jesus to his disciples during the Last Supper. In this long farewell speech, Jesus tries to summarize all he taught his disciples and commend them to the Father. Jesus begins with the image of the vine and its branches to describe the disciples’ relationship to Jesus and the Father.
Today’s gospel reading is a continuation of the emphasis on the relationship between the disciples, Jesus and the Father. These relationships are defined by love. The Father’s love for Jesus mirrors Jesus’ love for his disciples. As the Father loved Jesus, so Jesus loved his disciples. And as Jesus abides in the Father’s love, the disciples are to abide in Jesus’ love. To abide in Jesus’ love demands keeping his commandments, and keeping his commandments means to love as Jesus loved. Jesus’ death is the ultimate demonstration of this love. Jesus wants his disciples to demonstrate this same selfless and self-giving love in words and actions.
At the heart of today’s gospel is the invitation to abide in God’s love. Jean Vanier explains that to “abide in Jesus is to make our home in him and to let Jesus make his home in us.” Two things come to mind when I think of a home. First, I think of home as a place of being, where I live permanently. Abiding in Christ’s love, then, means that he desires to dwell permanently in us and that he wishes that we remain permanently in him. Secondly, a home is a place where I am myself. Sometimes we talk about being at home with friends. Abiding in Christ’s love is an invitation to be ourselves with Christ knowing that he loves us.
There is nothing, then, that can give us more peace and joy than in knowing that God loves us and desires to be at home with us, irrespective of our strengths and weaknesses. Love is the key that opens the door to Christ dwelling, the bridge into the very heart of the divine mystery. We are then called to allow ourselves to be loved by God and to be at home with Christ. “There is nothing greater in this world than this: to love and to be loved by God.”