Reflections for the VI Sunday of Easter
Homily starter anecdote: “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”
It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80’s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. The medico took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him. Since he, himself, was not busy the medico took time to evaluate the man’s wound. The wound was well healed, and so he talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound. While taking care of his wound, the medico asked his patient if he had another doctor’s appointment as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman said that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. In answer to the medico’s question about her health, the old man responded that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. When the medico asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late, he replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now. The medico was surprised, and asked him why, if his wife didn’t know who he was, he went every morning faithfully for the breakfast. The old man smiled and said, “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.” The medico with tears in the eyes said to himself, “That is the kind of love I want in my life.” True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be. In today’s Gospel Jesus commands, us to practice this type of sacrificial and selfless agápe love as he practiced it. (http://stjohngrandbay.org/wt/client/v2/story/WT_Story.cfm?SecKey=151)
Introduction: Today’s Scripture passages declare the profound truth that those who believe in Christ are to obey his commandment of love – “Love others as I have loved you.” When we celebrate Mother’s Day, let us remember with gratitude that it is generally our mothers who practice the agápe love of Jesus
Scripture Lessons summarized: In the first reading, Peter teaches us that God shows no partiality in His love and that there are no boundaries to abiding in love. God loves everyone, both the Jews and the Gentiles, and He wants everyone to be saved through His son, Jesus.That is why God welcomed the Roman centurion Cornelius as the first non-Jew to become a Christian. The reading tells us how God also allowed the Gentiles who heard Peter’s speech to receive the same Holy Spirit and His gifts that Peter’s Jewish audience had received on the day of Pentecost. In the second reading, John defines God as love and explains that He expressed His love for mankind by sending His son to die for us humans “as expiation for our sins.” This Divine love gives us the command as well as duty to love one another as we have been loved by God. Since God has loved us first, we can and should love God in return, love ourselves and love one another. After telling the parable of the vine and branches, Jesus, in today’s Gospel, teaches the disciples that are to obey his commandment of love just as Jesus has obeyed his Heavenly Father’s will by fulfilling His commandments and remaining inseparably bonded with his Father. Jesus’ unconditional, forgiving, selfless, sacrificial love for us must be the criterion of our love for others. The highest expression of this love is our willingness to lay down our lives as Jesus did, for people who don’t deserve it. The goal and result of our abiding in love, in God, will be perfect joy. Jesus calls us friends. He tells us that he has chosen us, and that, if we use Jesus’ name, we can ask the Father for anything
First reading, Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 explained: One of the early Church's first struggles was to decide whether God was calling the early Christians to be a sect entirely within Judaism, or one that extended outward and welcomed others who believed in Jesus. The decision to yoke the Jews and the Gentiles together was a tough one for the Judeo-Christians and a welcome sign for the converts from pagan religions. In today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the start of the process. The episode begins earlier in Acts, in Chapter 10, where Peter and the Roman centurion Cornelius (a good pagan), are given interlocking, visions. Acts describes how the Heavenly messenger instructed Cornelius to send to Joppa for Peter. In a trance, Peter heard a Voice bidding him to eat non-kosher foods. Peter called this unthinkable, but the Voice insisted that what God had purified no one might call unclean. The worldwide Gentile mission was later to begin with this formerly-pagan centurion. The Holy Spirit, guiding the Church, would use Cornelius to assist Paul in transforming the early Church from an exclusively Jewish establishment to a dominantly Gentile and western European reality.
During his meeting with Cornelius, Peter made a speech giving Cornelius and his pagan household and friends the assurance that everyone “who fears Him is acceptable to God” and “God shows no partiality.” As they all received the anointing of the Holy Spirit while listening to Peter’s preaching, Peter ordered them to be baptized then and there. This story teaches three lessons: 1) Authentic changes must be expected as part of the Church's ongoing mission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 2) New directions result ultimately from the Holy Spirit's guidance rather than from merely human decisions. 3) The ecclesiastical leadership has the right and obligation to teach and carry out Divinely-willed new instructions.
Second Reading, 1 John 4:7-10 explained: This passage contains the greatest single statement about God in the whole Bible, namely, God is love. This statement means that (i) Love has its origin in God (1 Jn 4:7). According to Clement of Alexandria, the real Christian "practices being God." God is love and, therefore, to be like God and be what he was meant to be, man must also love. (ii) Love has a double relationship to God. It is only by knowing God that we learn to love Him and it only by loving God that we learn to know Him (1 Jn 4:7-8). In other words, love comes from God, and love leads to God. (iii) It is by love that God is known, and the best demonstration of God comes, not from argument, but from a life of love. (iv) God's love is demonstrated in Jesus Christ (1 Jn 4:9). When we look at Jesus we see two things about the love of God. (a) It is a love which holds nothing back (even giving His Son in sacrifice). (b) It is a totally undeserved love because God loves poor and disobedient creatures like us. God’s love also explains many things: (a) It explains creation (God wants to love someone who can love Him back). (b) It explains free-will. Unless love is a free response it is not love. (c) It explains Providence. Since God is love, His creating act is followed by His constant care. (d) It explains redemption. The very fact that God is love meant that He had to seek and save that which was lost. He had to find a remedy for sin. (e) It explains the life beyond. The fact that God is love makes it certain that the chances and changes of life do not have the last word and that His love will readjust the balance of this life. This passage also teaches us that Jesus is: (i) the bringer of life, (ii) the restorer of the lost relationship with God, (iii) the Savior of the world (1 Jn 4:14) and (iv) the Son of God (1 Jn 4:15).
Gospel exegesis: We need to choose obedience to experience the abiding love of God: “There can be no doubt that love is the overarching thread which ties together this Sunday’s Gospel— in various forms, the word is used eleven times in this passage, both as the verb agapaô(“to love”) and as the noun agápê (love). Jesus reminds the apostles that the ultimate expression of love (and especially Christian love, agápê) lies in self-sacrifice for others” (Dr. Watson). Today's Gospel reading comes from the middle of Jesus' so-called "Farewell Discourse," a lengthy section (Jn 14—17). It is the heart-to-heart, after-dinner "table-talk” of Jesus with his disciples. Fundamentally, the first half of chapter 15 is about love: the love of God for Jesus, the love of Jesus for his disciples and the love of the disciples for Jesus. Verse 9 declares that there is no distinguishing difference between the love of the Father for the Son and that which the Son has for his chosen disciples. But, even though this love is steadfast and sure, it is also a love that may be lost. Thus, Jesus urges his disciples to "abide" or "remain" in his love. The "condition" for receiving and keeping this unconditional love is spelled out in verse 10 - "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” The disciples must receive, respond to, Jesus’ love by keeping his commandments if they are to be able to continue receiving Jesus' love. There is both respect and freedom for the disciples' chosen actions implicit in this design. But Jesus next reminds his followers that he, too, has been free to act in obedience or disobedience to his Father's commandments, and he has offered himself as a model of obedience and abiding love. Indeed, the "joy" Jesus goes on to speak of in verse 11 is the joy that he knows as a result of his absolute obedience to the Father, and the perfect unity they share. Thus, Jesus urges his disciples to choose obedience and to experience his abiding love so that they may also experience this kind of total joy.
The new commandment: Jesus clarifies the second of His two-commandment summary of the Torah’s Ten Commandments, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” as one short sentence “Love one another,” with an added, specific and intimidating parameter, "as I have loved you.""Love one another" is in the present imperative state, grammatically testifying to Jesus' moral intent - that this be a continuous, ever-present love. “As I have loved you,” means a selfless, sacrificial, forgiving and serving love.
The joy: The theme of "joy" is introduced here in verse 11. Jesus' "joy" comes from a relationship of perfect obedience to the Father and the unity that the Father and Son therefore share. But even this joy can be expanded. It can be made more "complete." "Completed" or "fulfilled" joy (also used in 3:29) is accomplished when Jesus' disciples enter into the obedient, loving relationship between the Father and the Son by their own loving obedience.
Not slaves but friends: Jesus tells his followers that he does not call them slaves anymore, but calls them friends. In the Bible, doulos, the slave, the servant of God was no title of shame; it was a title of the highest honor. Moses was the doulos of God (Deuteronomy 34:5); so was Joshua (Joshua 24:29); so was David (Psalm 89:20). It is a title which Paul counted it an honor to use (Titus 1:1); and so did James (James 1:1). The greatest men in the past had been proud to be called the douli, the slaves of God. But Jesus says: "I have something greater for you yet. You are no longer slaves; you are friends." Christ offers an intimacy with God which not even the greatest of men knew before Jesus came into the world. The idea of being the friend of God also has a Biblical background. Abraham was the friend of God (Isaiah 4 1: 8). In Wisdom 7: 27, Wisdom is said to make us the friends of God. In Rome in the first century, the Friends of the king and the emperor were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him. Jesus has called us to be his friends and the friends of God. Jesus has given us this intimacy with God, so that He is no longer a distant stranger, but our close friend.
Discipleship by Divine selection: The unmerited quality of this Divine friendship is further emphasized by Jesus' declaration in verse 16, "You did not choose me but I chose you." Discipleship comes about by Divine choice, not by human merits and actions. The prescribed outcome of this choice is the disciples' ability now to go out and "bear fruit," bear abiding fruit. The love, the friendship that comes from Christ is tangibly manifested in the disciples' lives. Verse 16 concludes that, as friends of Jesus, the disciples have access to virtually unlimited power. They have only to invoke Jesus' name, and God will respond. The phrase "in my Name" denotes a prayer context, as well as suggesting that invoking Jesus' Name makes manifest the very presence of Jesus himself. Today's text concludes by setting the stage for the reason that the “world” hates Jesus’ disciples. Disciples of Jesus do, in fact, love one another. The power of Christ's love and friendship in no way negates the reality of this world's ability to hate. That is why Jesus closes with a clear command that we must love one another, and even love those who hate us. “UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor. Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur. Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum. Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero “(“WHERE charity and love are, God is there. Christ's love has gathered us into one. Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him. Let us fear and let us love the living God. And may we love each other with a sincere heart”). (From the traditional chant for the Washing of the Feet, Mass of the Lord’s Supper).
Life messages: 1) Let us cultivate an abiding and loving friendship with Jesus: a) The qualities we normally expect from our friends are trust, mutuality, faithfulness, equality, forgiveness, joy and sacrifice. Jesus offers us all these qualities in our friendship with him. b) As a friend, Jesus has trusted us by sharing with us everything that he has heard from his Father. Hence, we have to trust him as a friend by listening to him through the Bible and talking to him by prayer. c) As our friend, Jesus will be always faithful to us. Let us return this fidelity by being faithful to him in doing His will. d) By calling us his friends, Jesus makes us equal to him. Let us be proud of this and lead lives worthy of our unique status. e) As an understanding friend, Jesus is ready to forgive us time and time again. Let us also forgive those who offend us. f) As a friend, Christ has told us everything so that our joy might be complete in him. Let us enjoy Jesus’ Divine friendship. g) Jesus declared that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. He has done it for us. Hence, let us also love others sacrificially.
#2: Let us be persons for others: Jesus demonstrated the love God, his Father, has for us by living for us and dying for us. Hence, as his disciples, we are to be persons for others, sacrificing our time, talents and lives for others. This is what parents spontaneously do for their children by sacrificing themselves, their time, talents, health and wealth for them. That is, they “spend” themselves for their children. The most effective way of communicating God’s love to others is by treating everyone as a friend, giving each the respect he or she deserves as a human being, God’s creation. In moments of trial and stress, when people are hostile or ungrateful and we feel the pull of bitter resentment in our hearts, it is important for us to remember that Christ’s own love was not limited to the people he liked. Hence, we should close our minds to thoughts of revenge. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).