Bible Reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 13:31-35 The Power to Love
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - May 19, 2019 - 12:00am

A Hindu monk, who read the life of Jesus in the Gospel, told a Christian, “If you can live what is taught in this book, you will convert the whole of India in five years.”

That is quite a challenge. Are we truly living the teachings of Jesus Christ?  If it were against the law to be a Christian, how many of us would be convicted? 

This is an old question priests often ask their congregations. But it’s one that we should never tire of asking ourselves.

Suppose you were the prosecutor, what evidence would it take to prove that someone is really a disciple of Christ? Would it be enough to say those are followers of Christ, who regularly go to Mass, put money in the collection basket, or send their children to a Catholic school? 

What if a person belonged to a church organization, or was active in pro-life activities? Would this be enough to convict him or her as a Christian? Some of these things might be pretty good indicators of one who follows Christ, but if we look seriously at what Jesus called the most important mark we may not qualify.

Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. tells the parable the “Devil and His Friend.”  The devil went for a walk with a friend.  They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick up something from the ground.

“What did the man find?” asked the friend.

“A piece of truth,” said the devil.

“Doesn’t that disturb you?” asked the friend.

“No,” said the devil, “I shall let him make a belief out of it.”

Fr. De Mello concludes, “A religious belief is a signpost pointing the way to Truth. When you cling to the signpost you are prevented from moving towards the Truth, because you think you have it already.” 

That was the problem with the Jewish leaders during the time of Jesus. The observance of rules became the center of religion, and not the loving Father that Jesus came to teach.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus told his disciples to love one another.  Then he told them, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Sounds pretty simple. 

A lot depends on what Jesus meant when he said we should love one another.  Our interpretation of love tends to be exclusive – limited to some.

The Jews in Jesus’ time interpreted “love your neighbors” as loving fellow Jews.  Non-Jews were not covered by love. 

In the time of the Crusade, Christians Crusaders raped, plundered, massacred, and destroyed towns and villages of what they called “infidels” in the name of Christ. Atrocities were committed “in the name of God” and “for the love of God.” 

And of course, the Moors did just the same with the Christians for the love of Allah, their God!

 Poor God. He wept in heaven as He watched His children cruelly destroying one another in His name.

Even today people are still killing each other in the name of a loving God. We see that in the Middle East – between the Palestinians and the Israelites, the ISIS, the terrorists … and in our own Mindanao the Abu Sayaff, the Al Quaeda and our government. The name of a loving God is being dragged into political and social armed conflict.

When Jesus tells us, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.”  What is really new in this commandment?  From other parts of the Gospel, it becomes clear that Jesus didn’t simply mean we should love the people who love us or like us, or people who are lovable, or people who come to church, or other Christians in general. 

That in itself might be difficult, when we consider the wide variety of characters it includes some people we might dislike, because of political, economic, social or religious positions and viewpoints.

But our Lord made it clear that his disciples must love the way he loves – that is all human beings, even unbelievers and enemies. This is what is new in Jesus’ command of love. Behind this new commandment stands the Lord himself. 

His love is the model and the measure of how we should love our neighbor.  And this is the most typical characteristic of a disciple of Jesus.

And what is typical of this love of Jesus?  The love of Jesus is first of all, a serving love.  He says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  Jesus sums up His whole life’s attitude in the humble service of the washing of the feet.  He stoops down to all who are weak, to the poor, to the sick, to the hungry, to sinners.  His heart suffers with all who suffer. 

If the Lord humbles himself for all who are little and weak, can we who are his disciples treat others with a spirit of condescension?

The love of Jesus is a merciful love.  He had a compassionate heart for people.  He had time for everyone.  He loves wholeheartedly, with his whole person.  No one in need escapes his notice. 

Can we, his disciples, abandon people unfeelingly and heartlessly?

The love of Jesus is a forgiving love. The Lord has never taken vengeance on anyone.  He has never hit back.  He forgave the sins of the paralytic. He forgave the woman caught in adultery. He forgave the sinful woman, weeping at his feet. He forgave Peter, who denied him three times.  He forgave those who were murdering him, “Father, forgive them” was his prayer on the cross. 

He broke through the spiral of hitting and striking back, of “getting even.” He made it possible for everyone to make a new beginning.  In him, there is always room for a new future.

The love of Jesus is a dedicated love. He made it clear that God’s name means: “I will be there for you.” His whole life was commitment to the Father and commitment to people.  He set an example for us: His words, his body and blood, his spirit.  He made this visible in the simple gesture and sharing, “This is for you, broken and given for all.” 

Is it right then, for us, his disciples, to think so narrow-mindedly of our own person, and to be concerned only about this little “I” and “Me”?

“It is by your love for one another that everyone will recognize that you are my disciples.”  Jesus wants people to recognize him in the way his disciples are behaving.  The most striking way in which a disciple can give witness of His Master is by one’s love of others.

The chain of love has to continue: not only from the Father to the Son and from Jesus to his disciples, but also from every Christian to other people. That chain should not be broken.  The proper tradition of the Church lies in the uninterrupted passing on of love.

“As I have loved you, you also must love one another,” Jesus commanded.  Our love of one another receives its meaning from the love of Jesus. We can test our love for one another by looking at Jesus’ love for us. 

We may break the chain of love.  Loving like the Lord is of course, a mission and commission.  It will always remain an unfinished task. But that should not discourage us. 

The Lord reminds us that he loves us first. Because he loves us, we are empowered to love others. When we can love others, we love not by our own efforts.  It is a presence of his love.  He makes our love possible. His love is at the same time our model and moving force.  

May our community of Christ’s followers, help one another grow in the capacity to love as Jesus loves. 

GOSPEL
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