There is spiritual writing that is fluffy and light, kind of breezy and makes you feel good, and then there is the Gospel of John, which is always thick and dense and packed tight. John spirals around repeating the same phrases but going deeper and deeper. It can seem repetitive and boring, and requires concentration and deep thought. John gives me a headache. And of course today we have the Gospel of John.
We just heard: “Jesus said to his disciples: (that is us), “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” Short sentences that pack a lot of wallop. “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
The word “remain” in some translations is rendered “abide”. “Remain” here does not just mean get left behind, but rather denotes an active, conscious commitment to be there, to abide. It is a choice and a commitment.
Then Jesus says something I find interesting. “I have told you this so that …” ¿so that what?? So that you will be impressed with the closeness between Jesus and the Father? No. So that you will do what Jesus tells you? No. So that you will understand what Jesus is all about? No. Rather Jesus says “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” Jesus instructs and teaches us so that we might share fully in His joy.
Hmmm. Everyone here have complete joy??? I guess not. Joy is a difficult concept to define and identify. A long time ago, when I was a seminarian, we used to sing an awful song by the Medical Mission Sisters called “Joy is like the Rain.” (sing first refrain)…. Anyone remember that? Well, maybe not.
Joy is different than “happiness”. I suspect that joy is under-rated. It is too closely identified with “happiness”, which it is not.
Happiness depends more on what is going on outside of you, on external circumstances. Joy however comes from within. It really is not related to what our exterior circumstances are like. I have met people in very distressing circumstances, like the Little Sisters of Jesus I met in Nome, Alaska, whose home had been destroyed in a terrible winter storm but yet were some of the most joyful people I had ever met.
And I have met plenty of people who lived in big homes, had fancy cars and every electronic gadget, huge salaries, healthy children, lots of worldly goods and still were crabby, bitter, discontented and anything but joyful. I am sure you have met these people too.
Jesus proclaims: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”
What is Jesus’ joy? How do we share in it? What would complete joy look like?
I believe joy comes out of a deep and firmly held conviction of God’s love for me. Jesus had that joy, and Jesus wants us to have it too. Joy is the evidence of the presence of faith. Because, as St. Paul tells us, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” The only one who can screw up my relationship with God – which is all that really matters in the end – is myself. This is why freedom from sin is the basis of all true freedom.
Jesus wants you to have joy and that it be complete. No lacks, no gaps, no thin or worn spots, no lacunae, just full, total, complete joy. Not in the future, but NOW. That would be wonderful!
From speaking of joy, and how Jesus wants us to have complete joy, Jesus immediately goes to an odd place, to giving us a command. “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Joy and commandments don’t easily go together in our minds. And yet they are intimately related, tightly bound, two sides of the same coin of discipleship. Joy and the commandment to love are connected.
That is because the command to love is an odd command. An authority can command us to do something or to not do something. But can love be commanded? It is of the essence of love that it be free. Maybe “duty” or “respect” or “obedience” can be commanded, and it might mimic love, but genuine love is, by its very nature, free. It must be given freely.
How can Jesus command love? Well, I am not entirely sure. But He does, so He must be able to.
I think His “command” is a funny and odd kind of command. It is not an order, not an apodictic statement of “Thou shalt love” given from on high, not a “do this or else” kind of statement. Rather His command is more like an invitation. But it is an invitation made with such incredible love that it is, in effect, irresistible. It is not a command that pushes and shoves, but rather a command that invites, entices, allures, pulls the strings of our hearts. It is in this way that Jesus commands us to love.
And in surrendering to His invitation to love as He loves, we discover the complete joy that He wishes us to have. Love and Joy are two sides of the same coin. They are inseparable.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”
John’s Gospel is pretty dense. And that is good. God bless!