As Marie Noel Keller mentions in her recent Bible Today article, “John wrote his Gospel in an effort to keep people faithful despite setbacks and harassments.”
Actually, the same statement can be made about all biblical authors. They wrote only because their communities experienced difficulties. If followers of God led problem-free lives, we’d have no Scripture.
That’s why on Sunday we hear the authors of the second (I Jn 4:7-10) and third (Jn 15:9-17) readings emphasize love. “Let us love one another,” the author of I John writes, “because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
John the Evangelist roots Jesus’ Last Supper discourse in the same concept. “As the Father loves me,” Jesus says, “so I also love you. Remain in my love.”

Love at core

Both authors realize the only action in which all Jesus’ followers participate — the only force holding the Christian community together — is love. Both know what happens when love is ripped from the center of one’s faith life because they see it happening in their own communities.
Each of the three readings deals with uniting separated people. The irony is that the first (Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48) zeroes in on bringing people who are “outside” into the Christian community, while the latter two are concerned with holding together those who are already “inside” the Christian community.
In Acts, Luke reflects on a problem Jesus’ earliest disciples faced: “Who can be a Christian?” Must non-Jews first convert to Judaism before they convert to Christianity, or can they remain Gentiles and still follow Jesus?
Fortunately, Luke can fall back on divine intervention to answer the question. Before Peter could even be tempted to bring the gentiles gathered at Cornelius’ house into the Christian community through Baptism alone, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word....The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded.”
The accepted religious sequence is destroyed. One should first be baptized, then receive the Spirit. The Spirit’s unexpected arrival makes Pater’s earlier words even more significant: “I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to Him.”
No longer will Jesus’ followers judge people on how they keep the Law of Moses. Now the only law that matters is the law of love.

Keeping faith

Yet it’s this law that’s being broken within John’s church. The Sacred Author no longer focuses on the conditions for bringing someone into the community. He’s concerned with what’s needed to keep someone there. That’s why John constructs the heart of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse around love and then in his first letter (written to counter the problems his Gospel created) hammers away at the same theme.
According to John’s Jesus, the only force making and keeping us one with Him and the Father is love. “As the Father loves me,” Jesus proclaims, “so I also love you. Remain in my love....this I command you: Love one another.”
The problem is that he expects us to give ourselves to one another with a love that goes all the way: “Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Only because some in the community miss the point does John return to it in his letter. “Whoever is without love does not know God,” he writes, “for God is love.”
The readings point out something all Christian communities eventually learn, something the first Christian communities learned very quickly: Unless we first bind ourselves together with love, we can’t make love the criterion for bringing others to Jesus.

(05-25-00)