Broken but undivided

Darkness of night and the sound of a door closing (if there was a door to the Upper Room) put us into the context of the powerful five verses (31-35) of chapter 13 of John's Gospel. Judas has just left Jesus and the others, but we know that Jesus has not left Judas. Jesus, who is love, has the capacity to be with each of His disciples and with each of us - no matter where we are or what we choose. The undivided love in Jesus' heart goes with Judas into the night. Judas goes to accomplish the darkest deed ever done, but Jesus continues to love him. In a way, we can say that Jesus' heart is torn by this betrayal. Yet we know that His torn and broken heart remains undivided. Once Judas departs, Jesus speaks to the 11 remaining apostles with full attention and love. His final steps toward the cross have begun: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified with him."

Removed, as we are, from this scene, it is good for us to try to enter into it by our prayer and our imagination. The five verses we are considering took only a brief time, but it seems probable that the time would have seemed much longer when the apostles recalled it later. The words that were spoken by Jesus are of tremendous importance. The words that He spoke carried with them the great love of His heart - for each of them, for all people, even for Judas.

"My children," He said, "I will be with you only a little while longer." We can imagine the apostles finding and feeling within themselves the honor He paid them by calling them His children. But their gladness about that had to give way to the discomfort and unpleasant thought of His departure. Whatever their understanding of His words were at that moment, it is certain they did not want to hear that He was soon to leave them. We all know the way we pay attention to words spoken to or by loved ones when a departure is at hand. We can imagine their unspoken objections to His leaving. As well, we can appreciate their focus on what He said next. Naturally, they would hold dearly all of His last words to them.

His next words are words that have changed the world; they are words both old and new: "I give you a new commandment: Love one another." The commandment wasn't totally new, of course, but Jesus gives it now with His own authority and with the power of His own example. He had just washed their feet to show them the depth to which their humility, service and love for each other (and for all people) should go. The more striking example would come the next day when He gave His own life for them (and for all people). The impression His words and this commandment made on them would change them. The whole experience of "His hour" was to show them the reality and depth of His love. They experienced the love of His heart in His words and then again in His actions. Looking back, they knew that He did all of it for each of them - and for all of them.

For the apostles and for us, the belief in Jesus' total love for each of us as individuals makes possible our understanding and application of the words He added after the new commandment: "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Our love for Him should translate into love for each other. Can we really claim to love and follow Him if we place limits on whom we will love? Of course, we begin with the people around us. If we love them and it shows, then we will be accomplishing an honored part of the work of His heart full of love. We will help the many people who are part of the "all" to discover what we have that is so special. We can help them discover their place in His heart.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Louis Church in Alexandria.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016