My intention is merely to unpack some of the rich content in today’s reading from the Gospel of St. John (14:23-29). I will focus on four points.
First, the declaration of Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my Word, and my Father will love them…” (23). Those who respond to Jesus’ love with love, will “keep his Word.” This “keeping of Jesus’ Word,” I think, is not immediately propositional, the affirmation of or fidelity to this or that speculative or moral truth. It is, rather, personal, whose truth is in our graced recognition of Jesus as “the Word,” the Father’s Word, turned to us, loving us, and redeeming us from our lustful stupidities, our marital infidelities, our loss of integrity, our transgressions against society, our sins. It is his Word expressing itself in its deep fullness as he gazes on us individually from the Cross, and elicits a loving response. It is in this context that we “keep his Word.” We keep to the relationship that he initiates and brings to happy fulfillment, liberating us meanwhile to our own response and to a life of deeper meaning. Those who keep Jesus’ Word are in an abiding relationship with him so prized in the Gospels as faith. For us, keeping his Word is “keeping the faith” – not the preservation of conceptual declarations, but living in having been preserved and uplifted in the Father’s compassion. This is not merely a matter of mind, it is a matter of heart that is faithful in truth, and truth that expresses itself in a faithful heart. It is thus no stranger to deep joy.
Keeping the Word, keeping the faith is strengthened in a vertical relationship to the Father through his Son. From this, horizontal relationships are determined. We are urged not just to be contemplators of the Word, but “doers of the Word” (cf. Ja. 22). It is not only we who are loved by the Father; all are loved, including the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned, the persecuted (cf. Mt. 5:3-10), including our enemies. That has moral consequence for us: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (Ja. 2:15-17). In God’s love for the poor, we are impelled to love the poor. Just as in God’s love for all people, we are impelled to love even our enemies. “Love your enemies,” Jesus mandates, “and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). “Love your enemies, and do them good” (Lk 6:35).
Keeping his Word is keeping the faith – not just in one’s head, but in one’s relationship to God and all those whom he loves; it is palpable in the manner in which one prays, or worships, or provides for a family, or fulfills a contract with integrity, or stands for forgotten values, or accepts persecution in insisting on the common good. To those who keep his Word and keep the faith, Jesus promises the Father’s love.
In fact, faith would not be there without the Father’s love. It is not we who initiate the relationship with the Father; it is he who creates us, he who redeems us, he who loves us first (cf: 1 Jn. 4:10-12). It is already in this context that the second point of this reflection is made. Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to make our dwelling with him.” This is, I believe, an overwhelming revelation. To those who keep the word and struggle in keeping the faith, Jesus declares that he and his Father comes to dwell in them. We need time to reflect on this, and silence to understand its significance. The Arc of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies contained the sacred scrolls of the scriptures. It was venerated with great deference and distance. The tabernacle contains the consecrated hosts, the most holy Sacrament of the Body of Jesus. It is venerated with greater deference and respect. But Jesus says, to those who keep his word, he and his Father will dwell in them. The Father pitches his tent not just in sacred vessels, consecrated temples and awesome cathedrals; he and Jesus pitch tent in the hearts of those who keep his Word, who keep his faith. That is amazing. In every struggle to find the more loving thing, in every sacrifice to share bounty with the poor, in every decision to make life more humane for the greater number people, Jesus and the Father are present within. This means less that, “I have the Father and the Son in me, I have come to posses them, I have come to control them, I have their truth” but, “From within, I am in the presence of the Father and the Son, who happily possess me in keeping the faith, and who so lead me to do what responding to his love requires.” This is the heart of Christian morality. It is quite different from being driven to merely to greater possessions, greater fame, and greater power.
Our third point is that the Lord promises to us the Paraclete, the Advocate. “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have taught you. It is impossible that the Lord’s disciples have assimilated all that the Lord has taught them in three years; the Holy Spirit will remind, enlighten, inspire, strengthen, and wisen. That is also true with us – no matter how much we have learned from the La Salle Brothers or the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, no matter how sophisticated we have become in our exposure to science, technology, and the managerial centers of the world, no matter how much we have immersed ourselves in the thoughts of theists, deists, atheists, pragmatists or hedonists, we have yet to learn of the Holy Spirit who discloses to us in his own time and in his own way the meaning of the Lord’s teachings. That includes the meaning of these teachings when bombs are exploded to injure innocents at a marathon race, when drones are used to drop bombs on military targets despite the collateral damage, when alleged terrorists are forced fed to counter a hunger strike against their controversial detention, when married couples must choose between abstinence, more babies, natural family planning or artificial contraception, and when citizens must make choices for whom they should vote in democratic elections. Discerning the spirits in pursuit of God’s will through the Holy Spirit is challenging. On the other hand, I have this conviction from experience: for those who wish to find God’s will, and dare to do this through serious discernment, they will find God’s will. God does not conceal his will. He communicates it. We must simply not block it.
Finally, Jesus imparts the gift of the resurrection: Peace. “Not the peace as the world gives it” (27b): not the peace that results from conquest, where peace is imposed by domination by a few at the cost of many, nor the peace of the graveyard, where there is no life. This is the peace that comes from the Paschal Mystery, through which our sins are forgiven, and from which we derive hope not only of sinning no more, but of contributing meaningfully to the Kingdom of God at the side of the Risen Christ.
Peace – in keeping the faith in a difficult world! It is possible because the Father and the Son dwell in us, and send the Holy Spirit to teach us how.