An Answer

John 13:31-35 (Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6)
Living, as we are, in Florida, all of us say more goodbyes than we’d ever wish to.  Goodbyes at airports, on driveways, and the end of telephone calls. And, we grow expert at swallowing hard, controlling the tremor in our voice, and the discrete wiping away of a tear before it’s noticed by others. To be a Floridian is to know much about leave-taking. 
John 13:31-35 show Jesus beginning to take his leave of the disciples. “My little children,” he tenderly addresses them, “I am with you only a little longer… Where I am going, you cannot come” (vs. 33). In many respects, these are Jesus’ final words. True, Jesus will speak to Pilate, Caiaphas, and others. But, here at table with his friends, Jesus speak his last words before his passion begins. The opening lines of Chapter 13 set the scene:

… Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1)

John doesn’t record Jesus weeping as he speaks to his friends, but it’s clearly an emotional moment. By the time we reach 13:31 Judas has already resolved to betray Jesus; the Passover meal has been eaten; Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples; has explaied the depth of the servanthood he has just enacted and calls upon the disciples to serve in like manner; informed the disciples of the impending betrayal from within their midst; and revealed the betrayer to be Judas. As Judas flees into the night (“When he had gone out…” vs. 31) Jesus begins his own leave-taking. Such is the context of Jesus words about love:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (vs. 34-35).

However, irony abounds. Jesus speaks of glory and glorification (the visible manifestation of God’s majesty). Yet, that glory is to be revealed in Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection.  Jesus is leaving (“Where I am going, you cannot follow” vs. 33b), yet we discover later that a departure powerfully shines a light on an arrival (“I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” 14:2b-3). And, sandwiched between the foretelling of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and that of Peter’s denial of Jesus (13:36-38), we learn about love. Ironic indeed!
Jesus’ love is a love grounded in the sufferings of the world – not a love that is remote and theoretical. His is a love that weeps; that bears heavy burdens; that persists in the face of betrayal and abandonment. Yet, Jesus’ love moves beyond that of feeling and into that which, as one scholar puts it, is “Both the organizing force and the sign of the Jesus community.” 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (vs. 35)

Can someone be commanded to love? (“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another” vs. 34.) Yes, if we have a model to follow, and if the one who models that love is himself the source of love – Jesus. And yes, if that love is to be the public mark of the community of faith.
So, to the eternal questions – How are we to live? What is the meaning of life? What does God want of us? What is at the heart of a life of faith? – there is an answer: Love. Love for one another, even in the midst of tears. It’s as easy, and as astoundingly difficult, as that!