Today’s Gospel reading is very explicit indeed! It demonstrates that Christ reigns supreme on the Cross. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn. 12:32). And so, on the eve of his death, Christ addressed his Apostles about his glorification. His death was imminent. “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (Jn. 13:31). The glorification of Christ was due to his tremendous act of love in obedience to God, his father, for the salvation of the world. “Christ Jesus… did not regard equality with God… emptied himself… and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Phil. 2: 5-11). It is this self-sacrificing love that Christ wanted his disciples to emulate and share with the world. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Christ, the new Moses, gave a new commandment to his disciples and by extension to us all. Love one another. To love is not a new commandment, it is as old as the Old Testament itself. In Leviticus 19:18 the children of Israel were told to “Love your neighbor as yourselves”. But Christ told his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you”. How did he love his disciples? By dying on the cross for them. “Greater love than this no man has that a man should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Christ is not talking about emotional love. Not infatuation, eros or philia. He meant the love that goes beyond all and cuts right into the heart of our being. He meant agape!
Agape is the highest form of love. It is the love of God for man and of man for God. Martin Luther King, Jr. describes agape love as “something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it is the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likable, but because God loves them” (A Knock at Midnight, Pg. 48). This love made the early Christian community to live together sharing what they had in common (Acts 2:42-46). It drove missionaries to traverse the length and breadth of the world proclaiming the good news to all the world and even to shed their blood for the sake of Christ. These men and women, having experienced God’s love, as St. Paul would say, “The love of God urges us on” (1 Cor. 5:14), could not keep that love to themselves but did all they could to teach and baptize others so that they too may experience God’s abundance life and his redemptive love (Mt. 28:19).
Therefore Ss. Paul and Barnabas, during their first missionary journey, would say in today’s first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Yes! “A true Christian is not only interested in his own salvation, but also deeply concerned about the salvation of others. Merely giving some alms does not constitute the virtue of charity. Effective interest in Church matters and Parish activities, intended to strengthen the faith of the members, is the obligation of every Christian. The Apostles and early Christians proved their undying love by accepting hardships and even martyrdom for the faith. We can show our love for others by courteous correction of an erring person, words of encouragement to the suffering and above all through our prayers. Let us begin to love truly and thus build the kingdom of God” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg. 442).
Jesus Christ wants us to accept and put into practice his new commandment of love. To love as he loves us, to forgive as he has forgiven us. To be self-effacing and to always think of the good of others. No wonder the mother of a child with life threatening sick would spend her life caring of her sick child. Or a woman whose fiancée is comatose will refuse to give up hope but stay by his side day and night praying for a miracle. To love as we are commanded makes it possible for mothers with children killed by drunken drivers to offer forgiveness to the killers instead of living with the pain and grieve and get stock in the past of unforgiveness. “There are thousands of broken families which would not have broken up if the members lived in love. There thousands of men women and children in jails, hospitals and street corners, who would not be there if those concerned had not failed in fulfilling their obligation to love. Thousands are poor, famished, oppressed, bonded laborers, victims of war and riots, because some persons, refused to love. Even more shocking, there are thousands suffering and uneducated, thousands live without any place for Christ and His teachings in their lives because we have failed to exercise charity. Love, the distinguishing mark of Jesus’ kingdom, should spring from our own hearts. When there is love in our hearts, there will surely be love in our families, institutions, country and world. The human heart is the minutest and most important unity of the kingdom. By exercising brotherly love from the heart we already anticipate the holy city in our midst” (New Horizon Homilies by Philip John, SSP and Premdas, SSP, pg.441-442).
The Book of the Apocalypse of John anticipates a new city of joy, peace and love. This vision of John in the second reading can only be realized in our life time if we begin to obey the new commandment of love. “Love is the one creative force that can transform the whole world and us. It enriches the recipient without impoverishing the giver. Therefore, Mother Theresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go, first of all in your family. Give love to your children, to your husbands and to your next-door neighbors” (John’s Homilies Cycle - C by John Rose Pg. 77).
Let us be reminded that if there are problems in our families, it could be that we have forgotten to obey the commandment of love. If our churches are empty, maybe we have failed to show love. And if there are problems in our institutions of learning, in our places of work, in our communities and in our nation, somewhere somehow it could that we have either ignored, failed or forgotten to put the commandment of love into practice. And hence we have not been able to experience the new city, our heavenly Jerusalem here on earth (second reading). May it never be said of us like Mahatma Gandhi once said when asked of his view of Christianity: “I have a great respect of Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who had done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with the Christians. They do not begin to live up to their own teachings”. If we Christians were to love as Christ commands us, I have no doubts that our churches would be teeming with people and instead of closing churches, we would be building new ones. May God give us the grace to accept his new commandment of love and put it into practice in our lives. Amen.
Rev. Augustine Etemma Inwang, MSP