by Father Mike Stubbs
Question: What trait do John’s Gospel and pop music lyrics hold in common?
Answer: They both favor the repeated use of the word “love.”
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jn 15:9-17, the word appears nine times. In the whole of John’s Gospel, it occurs 56 times.
That is a tremendous number, compared to 11 times in Matthew’s Gospel, 13 times in Luke’s Gospel, and six times in Mark’s Gospel.
In John’s Gospel, the “beloved” disciple plays an important role. Even though the Gospel itself never gives him a name, tradition identifies him as the apostle John.
Tradition also claims him as the Gospel’s author. In any case, it is significant that the Gospel characterizes him as beloved. Once again, the theme of love stands out. The Gospel underlines the fact that Jesus loved this disciple, not that Jesus trusted him or relied upon him.
Besides the frequency of the theme of love, John’s Gospel differs from the others in yet another respect.
In John’s Gospel, the love is primarily directed internally, toward other members of the community. That is why Jesus commands the disciples: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).
In contrast, the other Gospels direct the love outward: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
Most Scripture scholars believe that John’s Gospel was written after the others. Its later date might explain this emphasis upon love within the community as opposed to love directed outward. The danger of persecution was increasing.
Tensions were growing between Christians and Jews. The Christian community may have felt more defensive and a need to protect its own, a need for self-love.
In any case, Christ’s love for us, as shown by his sacrifice on the cross, is held up for us as a standard to imitate. It encourages us to move beyond self-love to love for others.
Love may begin at home, but it does not stay there. Just as God’s love for us reached out to us through Jesus Christ, so also the love which is cultivated within the community does not remain there, but goes beyond to the rest of the world.
There is an outward direction inherent to love. That is part of the mission that Christ has entrusted to us.
As Jesus tells us in the Gospel reading: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”