Sixth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Reading: 1 Jn 4:7-10
Gospel: Jn 15:9-17
The Easter season is coming to a close, and while still rejoicing in the Resurrection, we prepare this week for the Ascension, and have our first hint of the graces given at Pentecost. We hear of God's universal love and we learn that this Love is not given merely to certain "chosen" ones, but that it is offered freely beyond all national and ethnic boundaries.
The Gospels speak of Jesus giving his disciples a new commandment: that they love one another as He has loved. But we cannot share what we have not first received. After the Resurrection of the Lord the great news that the apostles proclaimed was very simple. Peter puts it all into context in today's First Reading, "God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." Love is not something we create; rather it is a gift from God to which we respond. It is a gift given; but once given it remains a gift only if it is shared.
Jesus understood his ministry in terms of setting people free. His life and death were not concerned about winning back God's friendship or changing God's mind about His people. Rather all of his words and activities were about changing people's minds and hearts - about changing people's thoughts and images about God and how they see themselves in relation to Him and to one another. He continually reminds us that our journey to Him is not about our desire to love Him but that the true motive action is His desire for us.
To love as Jesus loved is no easy task. We are all influenced by our own likes or dislikes - our own preferences or prejudices. Easy or not, this is how others will know that we are His followers. The God who is Love has commanded us to love in the same manner.
It is not easy to love. It is not easy to put another's needs before our own. The command to love as Christ loved sounds like an ideal almost impossible to attain - yet in God's plan of things, we are called to be a people whose quiet, patient and sometimes turbulent lives speak loudly of this overwhelming and un-ending love.
Jesus was a champion to those on the fringe; considered by some to be a prophet, a rabbi and teacher to others, the Son of God to those who came to know Him well. And He was a very troublesome embarrassment to those in mainstream religion.
But His life was one big embrace. Jesus lived to bring hope, and peace, and compassion. He came to set people free from fear and ignorance. He died for those in prison, for the homeless, for the poor, the prostitutes and sinners, the rejected and the despised. He took time to heal those possessed, the leprous, the dying. He loved them as much as he loved all.
And His command to love one another takes on a communal character in our lives as we struggle each day together in our journey of faith. We are challenged to love all people regardless of whether we like them or not; regardless of whether they have hurt us; regardless of whether they share our beliefs, or customs, or way of life.
By commanding us to love, Jesus asks us to become instruments of something we didn't fully expect and of something we can never fully understand. On our journey we meet many ordinary people we simply don't take to. We do meet people who have deeply hurt us. We do meet people who we actively dislike. That's the journey we are taking.
The message of Jesus started out as quite simple one: Love God and love each other. Since then, and for some inane reason, we seem to have felt the need to refine, redefine and wrap this message with our own theological concepts of what He was talking about.
But the message remains, and the challenge lays before us. Moving beyond our entrenched thinking and the images we have of how things are and should be is possibly the most difficult conversion for any of us. We may think that it is beyond our own limited capabilities. But the Lord asks us to go beyond our human limitations: to go beyond ourselves as we experience the mystery of His love in our lives; to delve deep into ourselves as we contemplate the mystery of who we are; and to move toward others as we accept the challenge of incarnating God's presence in this world just as He did.
This is the work we are to do. This is the kingdom that this resurrected and now-ascended Jesus has promised to all of us.