So often we think of God as being distant, watching our behavior, frequently disapproving of what we are doing. Jesus offers us a radically different idea of God. Jesus invites us to live in His love. How do we live in love? Our parents created a cocoon of love in which we grew. Even when we were no longer living near them, their belief in us was our default way of thinking about ourselves. Even then, their love had its limitations and was outside of us but Jesus’ love is unlimited and Jesus wants to live within us.
How can we live in Jesus’ love? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that Jesus gives us grace which empowers us: “The fact that we abide in Christ is due to His grace; and this grace is the effect of His love: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’” (Jer 31:3).
He tells us that we will live in His love if we keep His commandments. Does this mean that the day we finally manage to keep the commandments is the day that we will live in His love? This is exactly why we feel that it isn’t going to work. Our efforts show us how inconsistent we are about carrying out our intentions, even the ones we value the most.
Jesus offers us another way. He proposes that He will help us do what He wants us to do. But He does this in a way that does not take away from our doing these good things. Thomas Aquinas reflects: “It is clear from this that all our good works are ours due to the benefit of divine love. For they would not be ours unless faith acted through love, and we would not love unless we were first loved. And so He reminds them of this benefit by saying, As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
When God’s grace moves us to do certain actions, we are not puppets. As Thomas speaks of faith acting in love, he is insisting that it is our faith and our love. However, even the faith and love and enabled by God’s action upon us.
Jesus compares the Father’s love for Him to His love for us: “The love with which the Son loves His disciples is a certain likeness of that love with which the Father loves the Son.” Thomas notes that love means willing good to another person. The Father wills “infinite good” to the Son by giving Him His own nature. The Son does not love us so that we have the same nature as He has with the Father. However, Thomas observes that there is a similarity:
He loved them to the extent that they would be gods by their participation in grace – ‘He has granted to us precious and very great promises, that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1:4) ‑ and He loved them to the extent that they would be united to God in affection: ‘He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (1 Cor 6:17); ‘For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son’ (Rom 8:29). Thus the Father communicated to the Son a greater good, with respect to each nature of the Son, than the Son did to His disciples; yet there is a similarity.
Jesus declares: “Abide in My love,” which Thomas understands to mean, “Because I love you, abide in My grace so you will not be excluded from the good things I have prepared for you.” Jesus wants us to live in His love and He has prepared good things for us. Thomas comments, “Persevere in this state so that you will be loved by Me through the effect of grace: ‘He who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’(1 Jn 4:16).”
Jesus tells us that we abide in my love if we keep His commandments. Does this mean that once we get our lives in order, we are abiding in His love? Thomas responds: “Keeping the commandments is an effect of divine love, not only of the love by which we love, but also of the love by which God loves us. For from the fact that God loves us, He influences us and helps us to fulfill His commandments, which we cannot do without grace: ‘In this is love, not that we love God but that He loved us first’”
(1 Jn 4:10).
Jesus asserts, “I have kept My Father’s commandments and live in His love.” St. Thomas informs us,
“For just as the love which the Father has for Him is the model or standard of Christ’s love for us, so Christ wants His obedience to be the model of our obedience.”
Jesus abided in the Father’s love because in all things He kept the Father’s commandments. He submitted to death: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8); and refrained from all sin: “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips” (1 Pet 2:22). St. Thomas tells us, “These things are to be understood of Christ in His human nature.” Thus, Jesus could say, “He has not left Me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to Him” (Jn 8:29). In His human nature, there was nothing in Jesus that was opposed to the Father’s love.
Jesus announces: “All this I tell you that My joy may be yours and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). Jesus is telling us this not for His benefit but for ours. As He finds joy in keeping the Father’s commandments, so will we also find joy in keeping His commands.
Thomas notes: “Now love is the cause of joy, for everyone takes joy in what he loves. But God loves Himself and creatures, especially rational creatures, to whom He grants an infinite good.” Jesus rejoices in His own good and in the good of the Father but He also rejoices in us. As Isaiah proclaimed: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is 62:5). Jesus rejoices in us.
Thomas remarks: “Our Lord wants us to become sharers of His joy by our observing His commandments. He says, that my joy, the joy I take in My divinity and that of My Father, may be in you.”
Jesus announces His commandment: “This is My commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Thomas asks why out of the many commands of God, does Jesus choose this one?
Thomas recalls that Gregory the Great said that charity is the root and end of all the virtues. Thomas affirms: “It is the root, because it is from charity, firmly rooted in the human heart, that we are led to accomplish all the other commandments.” St. Paul teaches this: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).
St. Thomas explains: “Therefore, all the commandments are, in a way, directed to this: that we do good to our neighbor, and not harm him; and this is done best through charity. Charity is the end because all the commandments are directed to it and by it alone are given strength: ‘The aim of our charge is love’” (1 Tim 1:5).
Thomas concludes that Jesus concentrates on this command, “Since everything comes from charity as its source, and all things are directed to charity as their end. As Gregory puts it: just as many branches of a tree spring from one root, so the many virtues are produced from one root; and the branch of a good work has no life if it is not united to the root of charity”
Why, asks Thomas, does Jesus only mention love of neighbor when He has announced that the law and the prophets are fulfilled in love of God and love of neighbor (Mt 22:40)? Thomas answers that if a person loves God, he must love his neighbor and the things that belong to God. When we love our neighbor for the sake of God, we must love God: “Although the objects of these acts are different, yet the outcomes are the same.”
Jesus Himself is the example of how we should love. This is why He adds, “as I have loved you.” Thomas comments: “Christ loved us in the correct order and efficaciously. His love was orderly because He loved nothing in us but God and in relation to God. His love was efficacious because He loved us so much that He delivered Himself for us: ‘Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’”(Eph 5:2).
Thomas concludes: “We should love our neighbor, in a holy way, for his good, and efficaciously, by showing our love by our actions: ‘Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth’ (1 Jn 3:18).
Jesus declares: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Thomas realizes that Jesus actually laid down His life for those who were estranged from Him: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Thomas replies that Jesus didn’t lay down His life in order that His enemies should remain enemies but that they should become His friends: “Or, one could say, that He lay down His life for His friends, not in the sense that they were friends who loved Him, but rather were those whom He loved.”
Thomas considers Jesus’ action: “Since our physical life is the best thing we have after our soul, it is the greatest thing to expose it for the sake of our neighbor, and a sign of greater love: ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through Him’ (1 Jn 4:9).
Jesus proclaims: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). Jesus is teaching us about friendship with Him. According to Thomas, a person is called a friend “either because he loves or because he is loved.” Thomas shows that both possibilities are present in being a friend of Jesus:
Those whom God loves keep His commandments, because by conferring His grace on them He helps them to keep them: for by loving us, God makes us love Him: ‘I love those who love me’ (Prv 8:17). It is not they who first loved God, but God makes them lovers by loving them. Note that keeping the commandments is not the cause of divine friendship but the sign, the sign that both God loves us and that we love God.
Jesus says that He no longer calls His disciples servants but friends (Jn 15:15): “It is like saying: although you were formerly servants under the law, now you are free under grace: ‘You have received the spirit of adoption’ (Rom 8:15). The disciples were servants but, Thomas adds, “It was a good servitude springing from love.”
Jesus declares that a servant does not know what his master is about (Jn 15:15). Good servants know what the master is doing but evil servants do not know. Thomas asks what the evil servants don’t know. He answers: “Strictly speaking, they do not know what God does in us. For God acts in us in all the good we do: ‘O Lord … you have wrought for us all our works’ (Is 26:12). So the bad servant, darkened by the pride in his own heart, does not know what his master is doing when this servant attributes to himself what he does.”
Thomas comments on Jesus’ disclosure to His disciples: “For the true sign of friendship is that a friend reveals the secrets of his heart to his friend. Now Jesus sets down the true sign of friendship on His own part, which is that ‘all that I have heard from My Father I have made know to you’” (Jn 15:15)… God reveals His secrets to us by letting us share in His wisdom.”
St. Thomas reminds us that we have a tendency to think that we are the cause of friendship: “It is the usual practice for each one of us to say that he or she is the cause of friendship: ‘Every friend will say, ‘I started the friendship’’ (Sir 37:1). And so many people attribute to themselves the cause of God’s friendship when they attribute to themselves, and not to God, the source of their good actions.”
Jesus says: “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you” (Jn 15:16). Thomas adds: “Whoever has been called to this sublime friendship should not attribute the cause of this friendship to himself, but to Me, who chose him or her as a friend.” The First Letter of John declares: “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us first” (1 Jn 4:10). Thomas teaches that God didn’t choose us because of some good that we had: “Nothing can be the cause of and precede the divine choice, because all our goods are from God.”
Jesus appoints them to go forth and bear fruit: “First to go forth; and so he says, that you should go, traveling over the whole world to convert the whole world to the faith: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation’”(Mk 16:15).
In another way, they are called to bear fruit in virtue: “… that you should go, that is, progress from virtue to virtue: ‘They go from strength to strength…’” (Ps 84:7).
They are sent to “bear fruit”: “This fruit is the fruit of conversion to the faith, as in Paul’s first journey, ‘In order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles’ (Rom 1:13); or an interior and spiritual fruit, as in his second journey, ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace’” (Gal 5:22). Their fruit is to “endure” into eternal life and their fruit flourish, “He gathers fruit for eternal life” (Jn 4:36).
Why did Jesus teach them these things? Thomas responds: “He is saying in effect: Everything I said to you was to lead you to love your neighbor… ‘And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also’” (1 Jn 4:21).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John, Part II, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.