(Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2013, Asian Institute of Management Chapel).
The Gospel: Jn 13:31-36
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.”
“I give you a new commandment: love one another….This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love fro one another.”
To love is so central in the message and life of Jesus that it really is the only true measure of what it means to be a Christian, And indeed, because Jesus, in his life, reveals the greatness of what a human being can be, love becomes the true measure of what it means to be fully human. St. Paul, as usual, is sharply emphatic: one can predict the future, perform healing and do wonders, give up one’s wealth for the poor, even suffer imprisonment and martyrdom for the faith—but if one does not have love, it is all for nothing. (1 Cor 13). And of course, there is the well-known quote from St. Augustine: “Love and do what you will.” And so, it will benefit us to try to get a clearer understanding of what is meant by Jesus’ command to love.
Books have been written and philsophies developed around the theme of love. But if we want to find out what Jesus means by the word, then what he give us is not a definition that people can debate about. What he gives is an example, a deed, a reality that one cannot dispute: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
And so, to understand the commandment of love, we have to try to understand the person of Jesus. How did he love his disciples?
Now we don’t know much about the disciples. We know something about the impulsive Peter: so we can deduce how patient Jesus must have been with him! We know that Matthew was a tax collector—a despised profession in the closely-knit Jewish communty, so we can surmise how understanding and accepting Jesus must have been with him! But the amazing thing about the disciples of Jesus is how ordinary they were! If one contrasts this nondescript group with the person of Jesus Himself, then we may get some insight on what he means by loving one another.
For the Gospels reveal that Jesus was aware that the whole history of the Jews was but a preparation for his coming: In the synagogue, in his first public preaching, he declares of the prophet Isaiah: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
We also see that he was always conscious that he was one with the Father: “I and the Father are one;” and that he had the knowledge and the power of God Himself. “Put your sword back in the scabbard,” he chastises Peter in the garden of Gethsemani; “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Mt. 26:53). He was aware that his mission was as momentous as the initial creation itself, for it was the salvation of all mankind and the fulfillment of the whole creation.
And yet, this Jesus, having spent his whole life preparing for the mission that he would carry out in his public life, took as an important focus of those three precious years, the formation of these very ordinary people. But how effective that formation was can be seen in its effects: each of these very ordinary persons, with the exception of John, gladly gave his life in martyrdom for Jesus, and changed, and continue to change the world, The testimony of their lives became a first link in the continuous chain of generations of life-testimonies that continue to our day. Can you imagine what those disciples must have felt once they saw Jesus risen from the dead, truly divine, and they recalled how He had spent all those three years just trying to get them to see the point?
And what was the point? That God is Father, and that he loves and forgives us! And therefore, be at peace! And because the Father loves us and cares for us, the whole point of living is to love and care for one another.
And so, we can briefly summarize some of the features of what Jesus means by love.
1. Love—and therefore the dedication and focus of one’s life– is directed towards persons—not things or ideas, not ideologies or systems. Our work and activities will always involve ideas and things (like money, or business, or careers), but they are just the setting for loving persons—just as the Roman empire or the Jewish law were but the given contexts for Jesus’ love for his disciples and his flock. Ideas and things, systems and ideologies are relative: what is of absolute value are persons. And this notion runs directly counter to the pragmatic principle that families, or friends, or employees can be sacrificed so that one can move forward in one’s career or the bottom line may be fattened.
2. If the commandment is to love persons, then one can almost say that the only way that command can be effectively given is by God himself becoming man! We have often heard people say: “I love mankind, it’s people I hate!” Or “I love the Philippines; it’s Filipinos that I can’t stand.” And sometimes we ourselves can feel that way. And the reason is because an abstraction like “mankind” or “the Philippines” does not have what a living person can have: the smell and bad breath, the awkwardness and stupidity, and the sometimes downright malice. In such an instance, it is not easy to love. And yet, we are asked to love such a person, And the only reason we can even hope to do so, and why we try, and at times even succeed, is because Jesus did it: “So love as I have loved you.”
3. Similarly, because it is the person that is absolute, then the packaging (so to speak) of the person is of relative importance. Spontaneously, it is easy to be attracted—and be drawn to love—a person of beauty, or brains, or power or wealth. And so, for example, even parents can fall into the error of having favorites with their children, or bosses with their subordinates. It is as though Jesus was driving home a point when he chose very ordinary people for his tremendous mission.
4. Because we live in an imperfect world, and we ourselves are imperfect, there can arise the situation where there seems to be a conflict between our christian faith and Jesus’ command to love. Thus elders are liable to worry about the faith of the young, particularly of their children or grandchildren, and for the sake of passing on the faith to the young one can be mistakenly convinced that one just has to be persistent, even naggingly persistent. But in such a situation of seeming conflict, following the insight of St. Paul, one would be well advised to choose the demands of love over the demands of faith. To put St. Paul’s words in today’s language: love always trumps faith. And the reason is because the expression of faith (rather than the act of faith) is usually what is involved when we worry about the faith of the young: they don’t make novenas, they don’t go to mass, they don’t say the rosary, and so on. Now, expressions of faith can change from one generation to the next, and changes in expressions of faith can be mistaken for loss of the act of faith. The authenticity of love, however, no matter the situation, is more easily detected particularly when there is forgiveness involved. And when one gives true love, one need not fear that one is failing in faith in God.
Finally, love is the only reality that lasts.
First of all, love is the only reality which we ourselves truly create. Oftentimes we give ourselves credit for a great number of things: like creating a successful business, or having a dazzling career, or making piles of money, or becoming a celebrity, and so on. But if one fully reflects on these these achievements, one soon realizes that they are indeed the result of our choices and risk-taking, true; but they are choices made possible and conditioned by whole sets and series of variables over which we had no control and which we certainly did not create! But to love—that is an act that is purely mine to give or to not give; and to love in a sustained determined pattern, as in a marriage, for example, or with a friend over a lifetime, or consistently with people one deals with—that is truly a personal achievement that depends on nothing else but my free choice. For indeed, again particularly when forgiveness is involved, our choice to forgive and to love even flies in the face of circumstances that call for revenge, and even of common sense itself!
Secondly, and paradoxically, although love is a personal act of my free choice, still, even when I am gone, the reality endures. And the proof is obvious. You and I are here, alive, because others in one form or another, to a lesser or greater degree, have loved us and love us. Just imagine how suicidal the despair must be, if one were truly convinced that one is totally unloved. And the reason love endures is because it is creative of life itself! Just as I continue to live because others love me, so the love I share gives life to others, who in turn, having been loved, find the model and the strength to love others. And this is how the Body of Christ is built up, and this is how all creation is being drawn, being pulled together towards the center point, being brought to the unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Eph.1:10)