Friday, April 22, 2016

As I have loved you...

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (C)
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"I give you a new commandment.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34-35).  Jesus, as usual, has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter.

Love one another -- this is the essence of the moral life.  All of the commandments of God have love as their core.  The Ten Commandments are all about love.  The first three tell us how to love God while the rest tell us how to love our neighbors.  Jesus summarizes the Ten Commandments when He tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lk 10:27).  Of course Jesus, being the divine Son of God, loves perfectly. And so He summarizes the commandments even further with, "love one another as I have loved you."

To love as Jesus loves is to become a saint.  This is because to love as Jesus loves is to love truly -- to love as love really is, and not mimic some false idea of love.  This is because Jesus is God, and God is Love (1 Jn 4:8).

So it is important to know how Jesus loves.  Saying we should love one another is easy.  Everyone agrees that's a good idea.  But yet we fail at it.  That's what sin is -- a failure to love as we ought.  Each time we sin it's because we are not loving God as we should, not loving our neighbor as we should, or not loving ourselves as we should.  If we all agree that we should love one another, then why do we get it so wrong, so often?  It's because we are not loving as Christ loves.

Jesus does not say, "Think good thoughts about each other," or "Have fond feelings towards each other," or even, "Be kind and accepting toward one another," though these are all good things.  Jesus instead says, "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."  As I have loved you.

How does Jesus love us?

1. Jesus cares for our bodies.
Jesus does not simply say, "Keep warm and well fed," without providing assistance (Jas 2:16).  Jesus feeds the hungry.  Jesus heals the lepers.  Jesus gives sight to the blind.   And He tells us that we will be judged according to how we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46).

2. Jesus cares for our souls.
As much as He cares for our bodies, Jesus is always mindful that the needs of the soul are primary.  The body will die.  The soul is eternal.  Christ's physical healings are always a sign of a deeper spiritual healing.  Jesus cured the lame man as a sign that his sins were forgiven (Mt 9:5).  Jesus gives sight to the blind so that they may see the truth of God's kingdom.  Jesus loves us by directing us to repent from our sins so that our souls may be pure.  He tells us to "sin no more" (Jn 8:11).

3. Jesus is compassionate.
The word "compassion" literally means "to suffer with."  Jesus suffers with us.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: "Jesus wept."  Jesus shed tears over the death of Lazarus, even though He was about to raise him from the dead.  This is because death -- even if temporary -- is still an occasion of sadness.  Jesus understands that the way to love someone who is grieving is not to "fix" their problem, but simply to grieve with them.

4. Jesus is merciful.
Can anyone imagine Jesus holding a grudge?  Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery, "Your sins are forgiven" (Lk 7:48).  Jesus prays, "Father, forgive them," for those who are nailing His hands and feet to the cross (Lk 23:34).  He is anointed to proclaim liberty to captives and to free prisoners (Is 61:1-2).  He hears the cry of those who say, "Lord, have mercy on us," (Mt 20:30-34), and He teaches us to forgive those who have transgressed against us (Mt 6:12).

5. Jesus witnesses to the truth.
Jesus doesn't love people by telling them what they want to hear.  He loves people by shaking them out of the darkness of their comfort zone and bringing them into the light of truth.  Regarding marriage, He tells us that Moses may have allowed divorce but "from the beginning this was not so" (Mt 19:8).  He teaches that to be angry is to be guilty of murder and to look with lust is to be guilty of adultery (Mt 5:21-28).  And He doesn't change His teaching when people decide to abandon Him because they don't understand or approve of His message (Jn 6:66).

6. Jesus gives Himself to us.
Jesus gives us a lot.  He gives us wisdom.  He gives us knowledge.  He gives us clarity.  He gives us a path to follow.  So do many other religious leaders.  But what makes Jesus unique is that none of these things are primarily what He came to give.  Jesus came to give us the best thing He could possibly give us, and to give it in the most full way possible.  He gives us His very self.  Jesus was willing to give His life for us on the cross.  And He established the Church so that He may continue to give Himself to us for all generations through the Holy Eucharist.

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He took the bread, which was to become His Body, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples (Mt 26:26).  If we are part of the Body of Christ, that means we need to be blessed, broken, and given away.  This is what it means to love as Jesus loves.

There is a Greek word that describes the way in which Jesus loves -- kenosis.  Literally, it means "self-emptying."  It is the word used in Phillipians 2:7, when St. Paul says Jesus "emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave."  We must empty ourselves.  And I don't mean emptying ourselves in love and service to others.  If that's all we did, our well would soon run dry.  You and I are finite, broken beings.  We can give and give of ourselves until we burn out and fall apart.  That does no one any good.

We must rather empty ourselves in order to be filled with Christ.  Then it will not be our imperfect love alone that we offer, but Christ's perfect love flowing through us.  This is why Jesus commands that we first love God and then love neighbor.  Because if we are not filled with the love of God, we cannot offer our neighbor authentic love.

Our love apart from Christ is but a shadow of true love.  But, as the second reading from Revelation reminds us, Christ makes all things new (Rev 21:5).  United in Him, we become a new creation capable of loving as He loves -- capable of loving truly.

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