Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Give You A New Commandment: Love One Another As I Have Loved You.

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Reading I
Acts 14:21-27
After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed
the good news to that city
and made a considerable number of disciples,
they returned to Lystra,
to Iconium and to Antioch.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying,
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God.”

They appointed elders for them in each church
and, with prayer and fasting,
commended them to the Lord
in whom they had put their faith.
Then they traveled through Pisidia
and reached Pamphylia.
After proclaiming the word at Perga
they went down to Attalia.
From there they sailed to Antioch,
where they had been commended
to the grace of God for the work
they had now accomplished.
And when they arrived,
they called the church together
and reported what God had done with them
and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
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Psalm 145
I will praise your name for ever,
my king and my God.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
I will praise your name for ever,
my king and my God.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
I will praise your name for ever,
my king and my God.
Let them make known your might
to the children of Adam,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
I will praise your name for ever,
my king and my God.
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Reading II
Revelation 21:1-5
Then I, John, saw
a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth
had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes
and there shall be no more death
or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away.”
The One who sat on the throne said,
“Behold, I make all things new.”
John 13:31-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
“Now is the Son of Man glorified,
and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you
only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
EASTER IS THE TIME when we remember and celebrate the new life that has been given to us through our Risen Lord. What do we mean by “new life”? Have you experienced a new life since Easter this year, or for that matter, in any previous Easter? Are you aware of being changed in any way for the better? Or has the Easter experience simply passed you by?

A “new earth”

The word “new” appears several times in today’s readings. The passage from Revelation speaks of a new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of a “new commandment”.

A new life in Christ can, of course, come early or late in a person’s life. For many saints it came after a long period of loose and immoral living. Saint Augustine comes to mine. For others, like Thérèse of Lisieux, it came quite early. She was already a saint when she died at the age of 24. For most of us, it seems to come and go like the tide. In other words, it will not be a “once-for-all” experience, but something that comes at various stages during our life, each one bringing us to a deeper level of understanding, insight and commitment.


The “new life” that Scripture speaks of is also referred to as “conversion” (in Greek metanoia) which literally means “turning around”. It means new attitudes, new values, new ways of relating with God and with people. In the Gospel, we hear the “farewell address” of Jesus to his disciples before he goes to his passion and death. What is his message? Is it “Be faithful in keeping the Ten Commandments, and strive to live a moral life? Not really! Does he warn us to be sure to get to church every Sunday and to confess our sins regularly? Not exactly! Does he urge us to use all our energy in loving God and our neighbor? As a matter of fact, no!

The “new commandment”

What Jesus tells us is to love other people – to love them as He has loved us. This, he says, is a “new commandment”. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) told us to love God with our whole heart and mind and might, and our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus adds a new element to the precept God gave Moses on Mount Sinai: The true test of discipleship is to love other people in the same way that Jesus has loved us. We might remember that these words lead to this: “Greater love than this no one has, but to give his life for another.” Jesus has given us the example, by the suffering and degradation which he experienced at Calvary, when he, who was sinless, offered himself to the Father in atonement for sin – out of love for his brothers and sisters in the flesh – that is, for you and for me.

The only valid test

To strive toward attaining that level of sacrificial love in my life surely calls for a new way of thinking, of seeing, of behaving, of interacting with other people. The test, the only valid test, of whether I really love God is whether I try to love my neighbor as Jesus has first loved me. Is this the way that I, who call myself a disciple of Christ, live my life of every day?

It is clear, from the Gospel, that the Christian is not just an individual, but a member of a community, bound together by our relationship with Jesus, and with all those whom Jesus calls to follow him. I am defined as a disciple not by how I act as an individual; by my personal moral life, but by how I interact with other people. The solitary Christian is a contradiction in terms, because the measure of the Christian is the way he or she loves, and by definition, that love must involve everyone whom Jesus loves. “And they’ll know you are Christians by your love, by your love; yes, they’ll know you are Christians by your love.”

What is love?

That word, “love” can, of course, lead to misunderstanding. The word is used most often in contexts that imply deep affection and emotional attraction between two persons who are “in love”, or the affection of parents for their children, of brothers and sisters, and of other close family members.

That is not the meaning of “love” in this context. The Greek word that John uses here is agapê. It does not refer to the love between marriage partners (that word is eros); or to sincere affection with no erotic context (that word in Greek is philia). Agapê implies reaching out to others in a caring attitude for their wellbeing, but does not ask for any response whatsoever from the other person. It is the compassionate love that Jesus shows for the sinner, even the sinner who does not – and will never – repent. It would be difficult for me to love a Hitler, a Stalin, a murderer, a child abuser as my friend. That would have no real meaning, and Jesus does not ask us to create such an artificial attitude.

Love your enemies

On the other hand, there is a way that I can certainly “love” Hitler, Stalin, the rapist, the child abuser, or anyone else who has hurt me, or disappointed me, or failed me, or who simply behaves in a way I cannot accept as good. I can strive to “love my enemies” in the same way that Jesus expressed on the Cross just before he died. “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” His words are usually understood as referring to the Pharisees and Sadducees, to Pilate and Herod, to Judas who betrayed him. Yet, they also refer to everyone who has ever committed sin, from the couple in the Garden of Eden to the people who will be alive in the flesh at his coming again in glory. “Father, forgive them, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but I have given my life in order to redeem them from the burden of their sins, because they are my brothers and sisters, and your children, whom we love, and with whom we share our Holy Spirit."

The true disciple of Christ does not in fact have enemies. Jesus had a profound sense of agapê even at that terrible moment. As disciples of Jesus, imbued with his message –and his example – of agapê, we are called to do as he has done, to share our faith and our love with all we meet. The words of the Second Reading from Revelation clearly apply here: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people. God Himself will always be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

It is through us, agapê-filled people, that God comes into other people’s lives. This is how "the new earth, the new heaven, and the new Jerusalem” will come into existence. It is in our hands. All we need to is follow the lead of Jesus our Lord and Savior. Let us love one another as He has first loved us.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

It is remarkable that Jesus chooses the very moment of His betrayal by Judas to speak of glorification and love. His glory shines all the more brightly against the darkness of Judas' betrayal, which also makes the love He has shown the disciples all the more clearly unconditional.