John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Jesus tells his disciples in this passage from the Last Supper Discourse that now he is glorified, and God is glorified in him and will soon glorify him further. Jesus says that he will be with them only a little while longer. Then Jesus gives them a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This is the sign whereby people will be able to recognize disciples of Jesus—their love for one another.
The word “glory” appears about 375 times in the Old Testament and about 175 times in the New. The key to grasping its elusive meaning is to understand that, like a sacramental sign, its purpose is to create or to deepen personal relationship. “The heavens declare the glory of God … all the earth is filled with glory” (Ps 19:2 and Is 6:3). It is possible, however, for an individual to express deep awe in the presence of the beauty of the heavens and the earth, yet not recognize the beauty as a gift of God’s glory. For its inter-personal meaning to be realized, glory (like a sacrament) must at the same time be objectively given and subjectively received. To recognize the glory of divine presence in gratitude—now doubling the meaning of the term—is to give glory to God.
The Gospel according to John tells the good news that Jesus is the complete, human manifestation of God’s presence among us: he is the glory or sacramental sign of the divine presence. John structures his gospel around seven major signs or expressions of divine glory: changing water to wine at the wedding feast (“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him” [Jn 2:11]); cure of the noble’s son; cure of the paralytic; feeding the multitude with bread; showing power over the sea; giving sight to the blind man; raising Lazarus from death. Through these signs some began to recognize the divine presence in him. Others, however, remained blind and did not perceive these events as the presence of God’s glory.
In his farewell address, Jesus speaks of the eighth event that will be the summary and climax of the seven previous signs. This will happen when he is lifted up for all to see, giving himself in love even to death on a cross. This sign is the ultimate revelation that God is love—the complete expression of God’s glory. God is thus manifested or glorified in him. Jesus on the cross declares the supreme glory of God to be love. God then glorifies him through resurrection.
The Last Supper context of today’s passage reminds us that now in every time and place, the Risen Lord extends the eighth sign of divine love through the Eucharist. The bread and wine do not hide, but express the glory of Christ—the sacrament of his giving himself to us out of love just as he gave himself to us on the cross. Only through the seeing of faith can we recognize the glory manifested as Jesus gives himself on the cross and now gives himself to us as bread and wine.
It is no surprise to discover that Jesus asks all who believe in him to do what he has done to manifest God’s glory. If we love others as he has loved us, if we become bread and wine for others, what we say and what we do become expressions of divine glory and signs of the divine presence. Through love that we give, people will know that we are disciples of Jesus. And perhaps in our age of disbelief, through the miracle of love, people may begin to believe in the divine presence, though heretofore they had not perceived the heavens and the whole earth to be filled with divine glory.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.