Obey My Commandments
John 14: 15 — 24
The passage continues on immediately from the previous week's Gospel. The theme which binds together verses 15 — 24 is love and obedience. For the reader who benefits from an overview of the passage and its very rich content, we offer a summary by Ronald Cox from The Gospel Story. (Click here)
Some Notes On the Text
The passage opens with the oft-quoted saying of Jesus, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments." (Literally, "you will keep", or, more traditionally an order, "keep my commandments!")
It is helpful to note that in verses 15 and 21 the reference is to obeying commandments, while in verses 23 and 24 it refers to obeying the word or words of Jesus, i.e., obeying his teaching. We therefore can conclude that there is no real difference between "commandments", "word", or "words."
Verses 16 and 17
In the practice of "Lectio Divina" or spiritual reading (for meditation) we focus on the part of the text we are dealing with — and do not allow ourselves to dart all over the Bible to see how other writers record the same idea.
In these 2 verses (16 and 17) we have to consciously put aside what other Gospel writers have said, and focus on this particular passage.
In the Gospel of St John, the Holy Spirit is not the "defence attorney" who defends the disciples when they are placed on trial. Rather, the Holy Spirit is a teacher, a witness to Jesus, and a prosecutor of the world — convicting it of sin. Jesus says,
Some readers get a little confused as to who sends the Holy Spirit, or the Helper. St John talks of the Helper coming in three different ways although there is no real distinction to be made between them.
Jesus adds (in verse 17):
"He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The World cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is in you."
Verse 15 and 16 can be interpreted as though our Lord is calling for us to make a choice — to love him. If we do make that choice, he has an order for us to follow: "Obey my commandments" — meaning take great care to follow what I have taught you in equally great detail! Then I will ask the Father to send you the Spirit of truth to help you., You can count on him being with you!" (Verse 17)
The term "orphans" is what was used to refer to disciples of a rabbi who had died. No one who chooses to follow Jesus will ever be left out of the family connection despite short-term appearances.
Verses 19 and 20
Our Lord is, of course, referring to his death, and then his being seen by his followers after his resurrection. He is saying, in effect, "Because I will live again, you also will live."
"On that day", says Jesus, "you will have the consolation of knowing a unique truth:
I am inseparably one with the Father. Even so, shall you be one with me, and I with you."
"I and my Father are just like one person, and you and I are just like one person."
Jesus continues in strictly Jewish style:
"Whoever has my commandments and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. My Father will love whoever loves me and I will manifest myself, reveal myself to that person."
Our Lord here is using the same language as was used in Exodus 33 for a special divine manifestation. It is the language of divine presence, a presence which draws the beloved into a loving union, strengthening, empowering, and conferring membership.
One of the group with Jesus (by name Judas — not the betrayer) asked what seems to us a very reasonable question:
Obviously Disciple Judas has detected that our Lord is using the same language used between God and Moses:
He is anticipating some kind of external theophany, i.e. a physical revelation.
Verse 23 opens with the Semitic equivalent to quotation marks in English.
"Jesus answered and said to him, If anyone will love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him."
Jesus thereby corrects false notions people may have of how God wishes to manifest his glory and his sanctifying presence among his people. It will not be by breathtaking mega-events. Rather it is an inner manifestation of love, and indwelling by which the Father and Son enter into a loving relationship with the disciple who loves Jesus by living out his word in action. (A sentence from James McPolin, S.J.)
We are here brought face to face with the Word of God. Jesus was presented at the beginning of St John's Gospel as the Word made flesh, making his dwelling among mankind. Here, now, Jesus declares that what we hear, when we listen to his teaching, is not his own words, but in fact his Father's. So, linking this with Verse 23, when we set our hearts on obeying and putting his teaching into practice, the Father and the Son together make their abode in us. They abide in us, rest in us, share their loving presence, their in-dwelling with us.
There is a warning. Those who do not follow Jesus' teaching, having had it presented to them, are accountable for ignoring the words from God's own heart. They are even more accountable since the Holy Spirit has been sent by both the Father and the Son to help us hear and follow their teaching.
The passage provides a key text for those who obey God's command to meditate on his word in their hearts. What more could we ask for than the Father and the Son to come and abide together with us. In return how could the Father and the Son ask any less of us than to keep to the teaching they impart by constantly holding it before us and choosing daily to follow it!
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