The Abiding Heart of Jesus
ON THE ENDURANCE OF LOVE
Our narrative exposition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
continues toward the Passion of the Christ as we
hear some of the Master’s parting instructions to His
disciples. In this passage, we are invited to attend
to the divine presence at the heart of the gospel.
CHRIST TEACHING THE TWELVE APOSTLES
(EARLY FIFTEENTH CENTURY)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
After the tearful detour to Bethany, Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem. Joyous acclamations accompany Him, but He knows that the hour of His suffering and death is drawing near. Before that hour arrives, and away from the misguided crowds, He takes the opportunity to provide His apostles with a few final lessons, the thrust of which He will enact in the coming week.
Prior to His “farewell discourse” (John 14–17), Jesus washes the feet of the apostles, performing for them the fundamental action He asks of every disciple, namely, that they treat others as more important to them than they are to themselves. He warns His companions of His forthcoming betrayal and foretells their denial. At the same time, He declares that He will not abandon them but will, instead, send the Spirit of Truth to help them.
Perhaps perplexed by the seemingly conflicting messages, and probably overwhelmed by the finality of their Master’s words, the apostles must have been growing distraught. They made it this far with Him, but the next steps in their discipleship appear risky at best and futile at worst. Will they emerge unscathed from the forces of violent opposition marshalling all around them? Can they survive on their own without the wisdom and power of the One who has brought them this far?
Jesus seems to sense their interior struggle as He prepares for His own. Recognizing the stressful situation, He seeks in this farewell discourse to assure them that they are not alone. From the heart He speaks with affection the words that embrace the whole of their shared journey: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
There. He has said it. And that says it all.
The apostles understand the premise to be true, for they have heard the voice from the heavens say so. Considering the encouraging words and compassionate deeds they have witnessed during their time with Jesus, they could also assume the truth of the conclusion. But hearing Him say it—so plainly, so clearly, so directly—they now know unmistakably what regard He has for them. In those words—“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”—they experience the Sacred Heart speaking to them.
But beyond sharing a sentiment or stating a fact, as profound as that is, the Master also extends an invitation to them—to remain there, to dwell in that divine love. As a vine is connected to its branches, so the hearts of Jesus and His apostles are now intertwined. He is the vine; they are the branches (see John 15:5). He who is eternally united with the Father has made known God’s Word to them. Now He promises to abide in them, to remain present to them and with them and for them, to be the vital source of the rest of their lives.
In turn, He bids them to abide in His love. When they do so—they who have been chosen and appointed and are now called “friends”—they will bear the good fruit of living in love for one another. And by their living of this new commandment, people will come to know the One whose disciples they are.
“Abiding” in Love
Frequently repeated in this chapter of John’s Gospel, the notion of “abiding” (from the Greek ????) conveys a sense of permanent dwelling. More than simply a reference to time or place, the term evokes a sense of expectancy in the context of a relationship that endures.
Those who have followed Jesus so closely in the journey toward the kingdom can now be confident that He will not abandon them. Though He departs from them, Jesus nevertheless remains with them. The love of the Lord for them continues, just as the Father’s love for the Beloved Son abides eternally.
That, in summary, is the gospel message—not only for the apostles but for all who follow Christ. Jesus remains with us; His divine presence is not somewhere else, distant from us. Abiding with us, He continues to assure us of His friendship. When our hearts remain connected to the Lord’s, then His joy will be in us. When we remain aware of how He has loved us, then our joy will be full. And when we return love for love, then our lives will be complete. The Sacred Heart assures us of this.
Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.