Commandments: context

John 14:15-21 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

The gospel text is part of a larger section which includes the Last Supper and all that takes place after Jesus had washed the disciples feet, after Judas has left the table (“he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night” (13:30)), and after Peter’s protestations he would never betray Jesus.  The section comes before the disciples see their master led away for trial; then be condemned to death on a cross. Their faith will be sorely tested. It was to fortify them in these circumstances that Jesus’ teaching, beginning in 14:1, was given. O’Day suggests a broad outline of the context for our reading:

  • The Farewell Meal (13:1-38)
  • The Farewell Discourse (14:1-16:33)
  • The Farewell Prayer (17:1-26)

John 14:1-10 is the gospel reading for the preceding week (5th Easter, Year A) in which the disciples are reminded to “believe into Jesus” (v.1) because Jesus is the “way and the truth and the life” (v.8).  And it is in that belief that the apostles will do “greater” works (v.12) – by doing what Jesus does, the disciples of every age continue the glorification of God through Jesus that was the purpose of Jesus own works (v.13; cf 5:44; 11:4; 17:4).

Jesus’ discourse begins to move in a new direction, starting in v.15, by focusing on the ways in which belief in Jesus empowers the believing community (v.12 ff).  Jesus has emphasized that the works he does are not his own but are the Father’s; now Jesus begins to emphasize the link between his works that of the believing community. Our gospel text describes two dimensions of the believer’s relationship with Jesus: (1) the inseparability of one’s love of Jesus and the keeping of his commandments (vv.15, 21, 23-24) and (2) the abiding and indwelling of the presence of God, even after Jesus’ death and departure with those who love him (vv.16-20, 22-23).


  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 745-50
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

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