Acts 14:21b-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35
The theme that dominates the readings of today is love and service. Jesus tells his disciples to love one another as he has loved them. He shows the type of love he carries with him: he serves them and washes their feet. During the Last Supper he tells them that there is no greater love than one giving his life for his friends and he gives his life for us all, calling us his friends. He also defines for us the meaning of God’s love which is sacrificing and self emptying love. God emptied himself and gave his only son for our sake that we may have life in him. The first reading tells us how the apostles who had deep and personal experience of Christ are willing to suffer for the love of him. The second reading tells us of the new heaven and new earth prepared by the lamb out of love for us. The Love of Christ in the Church is received as precious gift. It also needs be demonstrated in accordance with Christ’s command to love one another. Love will be the mark of the community left behind after Christ has departed. He promises the gift of the Spirit, but that is a gift of empowerment to fulfil his mission on earth. All this is based on Love. Love is the basis of Christian discipleship and the motivation of Christian action. Love makes a Christian distinct person. Above all as St Paul says Christ is Love.
In the First Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the early missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas. They went through all hardships and misunderstandings while communicating the message and vision of Jesus to all. At the same time to those who were already Christians they gave support and encouragement to persevere in their Christian convictions. Luke tells us of the praiseworthy service of love that the Christians had for each other in the name of Jesus. Paul and Barnabas continued on their mission from town to town, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith. The Apostles instruct the new community with the words of consolation that through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God. Having already experienced sufferings and rejection the Apostles tell the Christians that suffering is part and parcel of their lives. On their return they explain to them to shine in a service of love in the Lord Jesus is to imitate the saints of the Church. They then appoint elders as leaders to direct the believers in each church community. With prayer and fasting, they entrust them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe. The apostles then call the church together and relate that entire God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.
The Second Reading from the Book of Revelation helps us to understand the purpose of the progressive development of the spiritual wonders of God within the Church. In his vision John sees the picture of the end time, indicated in a new heaven and a new earth. It is the glorious arrival of the long awaited “salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah.” The imagery presented is one of the brides which are the Church. The presence of the bride groom, Jesus himself is a sign of joy. Hence in that context every tear will be wiped away and all sadness removed. Joy will pervade the whole universe. God promises that he will make all things new in Jesus and all the old will be taken away. The glorified life is eternal. The reading says, “The home of God is among mortals.” Once we have passed on from this life and we have entered the Heavenly Kingdom of God, we will have become immortals.
The Gospel of last week spoke of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the need of hearing His voice and following Him. Today’s Gospel in the next step towards our spiritual growth as we are called to reflect on our service of love in the Lord Jesus. Here we have the new commandment of Jesus, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” To this he adds, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” By shining in love towards one another, all will come to know that we Christians are the disciples of Jesus. These Words of Jesus remind us of the First Letter of John: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Again John says “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” He reminds the disciples that “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from Jesus is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
The season of Easter reminds us of the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the celebration of new life which has come to us through our Risen Lord. John tells us that God loved the world and sent his son to save us. But man rejected the God-Man and killed him. But God raised him up and gave him back to us out of greater love. That is the Resurrection. It is the extension of the love of God. Love is to wish each other well. If our love runs deep it includes affection and service as is explained in the gospel of today. Love is the union of minds and hearts and wills. Love is compassion, support, healing, missionary and serviceable. Today’s psalm tells us that love is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and rich in abounding mercy. Above all God’s love is kindness, compassionate, sacrificing and reaches out to all. Resurrection is this love of God shown to us in Jesus.
The word “new” appears several times in today’s readings. The passage taken from the Book of Revelation speaks of a “new” heaven, a “new” earth and a “new” Jerusalem. Jesus in the Gospel speaks of a “new” commandment. The “new life” that the Scripture speaks of is also referred to as “conversion”, a turning round, or, in Greek meta-noia or a change of heart. It means a radical change of vision, of our priorities in life. It means new attitudes, new values, and new standards of relating with God and with people and indeed with our whole living environment of which we are a synergistic part. It is a new life in Christ which can come at any time. It means a commitment on the part of the individual for God.
Today Jesus calls us to a love like his, a love of service. He calls us to love like our heavenly Father who shows no partiality. He calls us to love as he loved, meaning to be filled with love for one another. The disciple of Christ is not primarily an individual person but an inter-person. He is always at the service of the other. Hence Jesus gives us the new commandment to love other people he has loved us. The divine command is to love God with our whole heart and soul and so on; and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus has added a new element in telling us that the true test of discipleship is to love other people in the same way that he has loved us. His love was the sacrificial love where he gave his life for us.
Generally the word love is used by us mainly in contexts which imply deep affection, emotional attraction and a good feeling when the beloved is around or even just thought of. That is not quite the meaning of the word in this context. In the present context, which is the time after the washing of the feet of the disciples, the word love implies a reaching out to others in a caring attitude for their well being, irrespective of whether there will be a similar response by the other. It is the compassion that Jesus shows for the sinner and the evil person. He even washed the feet of Judas. It is why the true Christian disciple does not in fact have enemies. This is what Jesus is doing in praying for forgiveness for those who were nailing him to the cross. He loves them not as close friends obviously, but as people who truly needed enlightenment about what they were doing not just to him but to themselves. Jesus cared for each and every person. Jesus’ attention here in the farewell discourse, as well as John’s attention in his epistles, is on the crucial stage of promoting the love between disciples. The community is to continue to manifest God as Jesus has done, thereby shining as a light in the world.
In the Gospel Jesus says that the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him. Glorification can refer to either the giving of praise or the manifestation of that which is worthy of praise. When Jesus says now he is referring to the manifestation of God now taking place rather than the praise it will bring forth in the future. The cross is itself the revelation of divine glory and the way for Jesus to share the divine life with his followers. He calls his disciples, little children indicating how he is attached to them in love. Let us ask the grace that we too may be close to Jesus throughout love dedication and service.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome.