It’ll take a grammarian to notice the ‘time clause’ introducing today’s Gospel reading: “When Judas had left….” Time clauses are used to express successive events that happened or will happen at a particular time. Hypothetically, the event wouldn’t happen at some other time. For example, “When I have free time, I will go shopping” implies that I wouldn’t go shopping unless I have free time. So it was important for Jesus that Judas was not present when He effectively changed the commandment to love—from “love your neighbor as yourself” to “love one another as I have loved you.” The absence of Judas rules out betrayers of love among disciples of Christ.
That the Jews struggled with the term ‘neighbor’ and didn’t know who deserved love of neighbor is shown by the inquiry of the law expert, in Luke 10:29, “Who is my neighbor?” In the term ‘neighbor,’ love has limiting borders, but in ‘one another,’ the limiting borders collapse. Similarly, Jesus knew that the often imperial Self is too absorbed and inhibited by passion to become the foundation for a quality that is intrinsically divine. The fallen-self cannot be a true starting point for love. The old commandment to love your neighbor as yourself curtails love, limiting it to the subjectivity of the subject. The new command frees love from the subject, affirming it as a divine quality and, in fact, a divine person. Hence, John proclaims that “God is love.” (I John 4:8).
“I was never able to thank him personally, but we looked into each other’s eyes before he was led away” were the words of Francizek Gajowniczek, the political prisoner of Auschwitz whose life was saved by another prisoner, Maximilian Kolbe, in 1941. Exactly 41 years later, quoting the Gospel of John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends,” their fellow countryman, St. John Paul, pronounced the latter a saint. St. Kolbe was a hero of the faith, but what he did was no more than is expected of any of us, if we take Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel seriously.
What is the test of true love? We can answer with the examples of our Lord and St. Kolbe. If our love for others does not stream from those two examples, we are involved in a degradation of the word “love.” And I mean that whenever we say we love someone, we are no least saying that we are prepared to lay down our life for that person. The joy of love (amoris laetitia) is in knowingly and willingly giving up self to affirm the other. It has so little to do with the glands. The pleasure of love is a way the originator of love wants humanity to benefit from the sacrifice inherent in love. Where ‘Eros’ is sought after in negligence of the sacrifice inherent in love, you have the case of eating the icing on the cake while ignoring the cake. The result is seen in all the ills associated with society’s lack of love: marital infidelity, divorce, pornography, prostitution, queer/homosexual practices, and numerous selfish immoral acts.
Love’s contemporary idiom is one that either still leaves Judas in the room or joins Judas in his project to betray love. Leaving Judas in the room implies a comingling of love with insincerity, betrayal, avarice, greed, and insane love of money, which has become the number one destroyer of love. But even more destructive are the forces, some of which are inside the Church, engineered by the purveyors of social progress, which team with Judas in the project to betray love, marriage and the family, promoting such betrayals as divinely ordained. Here, we find a fresh machinery seeking a sell-out of the body of Christ as Judas did. Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia decried those forces that seek to replace love with social progress. Perhaps, Paul and Barnabas saw the effects of these forces when they exhorted the faithful of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch that we must “undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo