Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples in today’s Gospel. He sees them sad and upset, because soon they won’t have him with them – and who can fill that void? Until now he has been the one who took care of them, defended them from the Scribes and Pharisees, sustained their weak and faltering faith, described for them the truth of God, and initiated them into God’s great family project for humanity.
We do not instinctively associate the concept of love with the demand to be faithful to a series of rules.
People often speak about love as if it is in opposition to rules and regulations: ‘all you need is love’ and ‘love and do what you will’ are the type of sayings that are used in discussions as evidence that we do not need to worry about rules.
Yet, in the farewell speech to his disciples, Jesus was uncompromising when he explained the necessary connection between loving him and keeping his commandments: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ (Jn 14:15).
In that speech, Jesus dealt with several other concerns. But he then returned to the link between love and the commandments: ‘Anyone who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him’ (Jn 14:21).
The central commandment of Jesus’ teaching was to love God and love neighbor. That commandment summarized the basic moral behaviors and ritual practices that Jesus required from his disciples. Those behaviors and practices formed the charter of what it meant for them to live as his followers.
Jesus promised to give his followers the best of gifts, the Holy Spirit as their Counselor and Helper. How does the Holy Spirit help us as the counselor? Counselor is a legal term for one who defends someone against an adversary and who guides that person during the ordeal of trial. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Helper who guides and strengthens us and brings us safely through the challenges and adversities we must face in this life.
The Holy Spirit is also the Giver of life – the abundant life which comes from God and which sustains us forever. The Holy Spirit also guides us in the way of truth, wisdom, and goodness. We can never stop learning because the Spirit leads us more and more into the knowledge of God’s love, truth, and goodness.
Jesus also promised his followers the gift of peace. Peace is more than the absence of conflict or trouble. Peace includes everything, which makes for our highest good. Trust in God, faith in his promises, and obedience to his word leads us to peace and security in God’s presence. That is why a Christian needs not fear or be troubled by anything. The love of Christ brings immeasurable joy and consolation even in the midst of our trials and suffering.
Jesus’ moral teaching is best summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (see Mt 5-7) where he expands the Ten Commandments, making them more demanding.
The ethical teaching of Jesus provides us with definite instructions for everyday living. It stresses the need for correct and respectful relationships with God and with one another. It teaches us that we cannot separate our relationship with God from our various relationships with other people. This means that we cannot have a straightforward vertical relationship with God without also having a horizontal relationship with God through our relationships with the people we meet in everyday life.
The fundamental message of Jesus’ moral teaching is that we are obligated to love God and our neighbor. We cannot love one without the other. It is impossible to separate God and people such that they remain unconnected. Our dealings with others have implications for our friendship with God. This is how, in practice, we connect love and rules. If we love God, we will keep his commandments. If we love our neighbor, we will not treat him/her unjustly.
How do we know if we love Jesus? Look at the way we live our lives. Do we live as Jesus asks? Do we live as Jesus asks us through the Church’s teaching? If we do, then we know that we love Jesus.
But if we say we love Jesus and yet continue to think or act in a way that is the opposite of Jesus then we see that we do not put Jesus in first place, we do not truly love Jesus because we do not keep his commandments.
And if we truly love Jesus and do not understand the Church’s teaching on an issue, our love of Jesus will prompt us to probe and learn until we understand why the Church teaches what she does so that we will not cause pain to Jesus by not keeping his commandments.
So for some, loving Jesus may mean humbly walking the way of trust until clearer understanding comes.
Nowadays, many people dismiss moral imperatives as being irrelevant to modern life. They are often viewed negatively because they are judged to be imposing limitations on our freedom. However, that is not so. Fidelity to Jesus’ commandments enables us to live freely in the presence of God who cares for us. Contrary to popular opinion, the purpose of Jesus’ moral demands is to enable us to appreciate the freedom of living according to God’s will. It is not to make our lives miserable.
Faithfulness to his commandments is the benchmark of our love for him and, in fact, for our neighbor and ourselves.
The teaching of Jesus offers us clear instructions to be faithful to God’s will. It summarizes what is required in order to live a wholesome life that reflects God’s truth and beauty. Its purpose is to rid our lives of selfishness and self-centeredness so that we can learn to put God and other people first, and ourselves last.
When our consciences are formed by Jesus’ teaching, we know the difference between right and wrong. Living according to his teaching ensures genuine happiness in this life and eternal happiness in heaven.