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Reflection on the Gospel

by Father Louis Okot, MCCJ

Today's Gospel builds upon the teachings from last week, where Jesus illustrated his relationship with his disciples using the metaphor of the vine and its branches. Through this analogy, we grasped the concept that our connection with Jesus bears fruit in our service. In today's reading, this notion is expanded to elucidate the nature of service expected from Christians towards others.

When John penned this Gospel, his community was grappling with the influence of Gnosticism, a set of religious beliefs. It seems John aimed to differentiate Christian faith from Gnostic ideologies, a distinction evident in today's Gospel passage.

A fundamental tenet of Gnostic doctrine emphasized knowledge, or "gnosis," as the key to faith. Today's Gospel counters this notion. Within John's narrative, Jesus confirms that knowing him is akin to knowing the Father, emphasizing that such knowledge must manifest in love. Jesus asserts that those intimately acquainted with him—his disciples—will demonstrate love for one another. Knowledge thus culminates in love, which then translates into action. John underscores Jesus's teaching that genuine discipleship, and consequently true Christianity, is signified by love, particularly sacrificial love.

In Greek, two words for love are employed in this passage: "agape" and "philia." "Agape" typically denotes love for others and for God, considered the highest form of love. "Philia," on the other hand, signifies affectionate friendship. John seemingly uses these terms interchangeably, with the root of "philia" being evident in the Greek word for friend. By employing "philia," Jesus redefines his relationship with his disciples and, by extension, their relationship with God. Contrary to the Hebrew Scriptures, where faith in God implied servitude, Jesus asserts a friendship-based relationship with his disciples.

Another facet of Gnostic belief posited believers as elect individuals, chosen and set apart from the world. John counters this by reminding his community that Jesus taught discipleship as being chosen by him, not for separation but for service to the world. Chosenness by Jesus implies a mission to bear fruit through selfless love and sacrifice for others.

This reading, akin to last week's, forms part of Jesus' Last Supper discourse, predating his Crucifixion in John's Gospel narrative. Understanding these words in light of Jesus's death and Resurrection reveals that he exemplifies the love and service he imparts to his disciples. Indeed, Jesus laid down his life for his friends, disciples, and all humanity, granting us the grace to emulate his love towards others.


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