My homily from this weekend. I pray that it reaches you in a way that you can go out share the same love that Jesus shares with each one of us.
5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C – May 19, 2019
Acts 14:21-27, Ps 145:8-13, Rev 21:1-5, Jn 13:31-35
In our Gospel two weeks ago, we encountered Jesus meeting Peter at the Sea of Galilee and in doing so, asking him 3 different times; Do You Love Me? Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” Jesus each time commissions him to take care of his sheep. That same commission rests with each one of us today because we too are called to love.
This morning’s Gospel reading complements this beautifully because it goes to the very heart of what it means for us to follow Jesus. Here, Jesus sums up Christian teaching in a couple of short, simple sentences: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.”
It’s all about love – in the final analysis, love is all that is important.
When Jesus gave this commandment to love, it wasn’t at a random time in his ministry: the timing of this statement by Jesus was so important. Because Jesus gave this teaching to his disciples the night before He was crucified; it was his final teaching to them before He died, so He wasn’t going to waste time telling them stuff that isn’t important. Instead, He goes to the heart of the Christian faith and is saying to them, “Before I die, this is what you really need to know: love one another…”
There’s something a bit puzzling about this commandment though because Jesus starts off by saying: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…” Why did He say that? There’s nothing new about love. Love has been around since the beginning of time. And love wasn’t even new as a commandment: in the Old Testament, God commanded people to love one another. So why did Jesus call this a new commandment? Has Jesus got this wrong, or is there something else to notice?
I believe the answer is in the rest of the sentence: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you…” That’s the new angle on love – that we are to love as Jesus has loved us…
So what does that love look like? What does it mean for us to love one another as Jesus has loved us? How are we to live out the Christian faith as a lifestyle of love? I think there are three main characteristics:
1. Love is sacrificial
There was no limit to Jesus’ sacrifice – because there was no limit to his love for us. In truth, Jesus didn’t just make sacrifices for us. He became a sacrifice for us. So, the fact that we love God and love others is a response to that. In another part of the Bible, also written by John, we read that, “We love because He first loved us”. Christ has shown sacrificial love to us and, as a response, we model sacrificial love to others.
I wonder what that means in your life and mine? How can we show sacrificial love towards others? What can we give of ourselves – who we are and what we have – in order to love better? Christ is the model for us to follow and we have a lifetime to work out what that means for ourselves. So first, we love one another sacrificially.
2. Love is unconditional
Jesus didn’t die for us because we deserved it. He didn’t die for us because we had somehow earned God’s grace and love. There is nothing that you or I have ever done that has made us deserving of a relationship with God. Instead, He died for us even when we were far off and lost from God.
The fact that you and I constantly make a mess of our lives is not any reason for God to withdraw his love from us. Jesus didn’t set conditions on his love. He never said that we need to do something first in order for him to love us. He never waited until we had proved ourselves worthy of love. Jesus’ love was absolutely unconditional and because Jesus loves us unconditionally, despite our weaknesses and failings, so we are called to love others unconditionally too.
3. Love is practical
Love is intensely practical and Jesus’ death on the cross was intensely practical. It wasn’t a glorious chapter in his life; He was alone, He was in pain, He had to grit his teeth and just get on with it. That is practical love in action. We too are called to practical love: to meet the needs of others in pragmatic ways that speak of love and care and compassion.
So, Jesus has a new commandment for us: not a new commandment to love but a new commandment to love one another as He has loved us. Sacrificially, unconditionally and practically.
That is the life we are called to. It is not easy – but love must be the hallmark of our church and our own lives. It’s all about love. Sacrificial love. Unconditional love. Practical love that is worked out in kindness, gentleness, patience, and hospitality.
In the Eucharist, we see how practical Christ’s love is for us. He laid down his life for us in an outpouring of love, and He gives us the strength to follow his example.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” Let’s ask Jesus, truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, to set our hearts on fire with love, and to give us the strength to love others as He has loved us: to the end.