What’s love got to do with it
There are three points that are useful to consider here and I think they all have to do with baptism into the faith of the risen Christ. The first thought that arises is that this saying of Jesus occurs between two events: Jesus’ acknowledgement of Judas’ betrayal and his anticipation of Peter’s betrayal. Between these two events, Jesus again reminds his followers about the commandment to love.
This commandment to love needs to be set in the Jewish concept of the Shema, or what we recite as the Summary of the Law. Rather than a legalistic concept, we might think of the law and the commandments as a road map for community and enshrined in its heart is love. The law is about an intentional way of life, supported and enlarged by community. That suggests that love is not so much a warm feeling as respect for each other, honesty in relationship, openness, longing for peace within the household of faith. Love in this sense motivates what we do and how we do it.
To return to Judas and Peter, each of them probably had their own expectations of Jesus, expectations that did not include a vulnerable messiah. Judas goes away and never returns. For whatever reason, shame, fear, or contempt, he cuts himself out of the followers of Jesus. And Peter, despite his own fear and cowardice, remains. About the latter, we know he is forgiven and given great responsibility. One trusts in love; the other does not. One forgets that we are forgiven before we slip and connected regardless of our virtue or lack thereof. We cannot escape love and forgiveness, but it takes a community to restore and heal us.
And finally, how is God glorified in all of this? The glory of God, that is awareness and awe in his presence, is found not in the dramatic moment, but in the willingness of ordinary people to spend their lives in the service of love. God is glorified in Jesus’ resistance to the powers of domination, in Peter’s return to serve the community of the risen Christ, and in every single incidence of sacrificial love. That includes the weary parent of a crying baby, the prison chaplain who continues to care in the midst of a riot, the personal service worker who stays past her shift because the old person is fretful. In a thousand small and large ways, God is glorified by loving concern between people.
And here is the final thought. For God to be glorified, we must learn not only how to give love, but also how to be recipients. To fully understand the mystery of God’s abiding love in creation, we must be helper and helped, lover and beloved. We will have no love to share if we have not experienced the grace of God who uses even betrayal to bring us closer to the divine heart. Jesus called us to a new way of life as lover and beloved, and not even death can break that bond.