Cycle C – Homily – Fifth Sunday of Easter – 15 May 2022
Lectionary I Lectionary II
Acts 14:21-27 Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13 Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-5a Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-33a, 34-35 John 13:31-35
I love today’s Gospel reading. It is probably one of my most favorite passages in all of Scripture. For many years I used (and occasionally still do use) one verse – John 13:35 – as my internet signature tagline. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples that you have love for one another.”
This is powerful. This may be the most powerful line in in all of the lines of instruction that Jesus gave to his people, to us.
In many ways this verse alone sums up the message of Christianity, the message that Jesus sent, brought, gave, demonstrated to his followers. “You are my disciples if you love one another.” It's not, “You are my disciples if you follow all the rules.” Jesus actually deplored the idolatrous practice of worshiping the rules over the message. The message of Jesus is simple, yet profound. “You are my disciples if you have love for one another.” The message is worded three different ways in this short gospel passage alone – plus a variety of other ways in different scriptural passages. But the message is always the same. To be followers of Jesus we are to love. Love is the message. Period.
But you might wonder where all the rules come in. Doesn’t Jesus say to obey him? Sure he does, many times. John 14:15 (next chapter over from today’s gospel) states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
So, the question comes down to, “What commandments is Jesus talking about?” Well, Jesus only gave us two commandments: Love God above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. We’ve all heard this a zillion times. Jesus only gave us two commandments; why we keep adding to them? I don't know but there really are only two. Love God above all things; love your neighbor as yourself. That's it.
Think for a moment. Although the Ten Commandments are Old Testament regulations, is there anything there that cannot be subsumed by the two great commandments? I think not – and I am certain you think not also. Now, look at the Old Testament stories. Doesn’t every one of them come down to doing the right thing – and isn’t the right thing part of the law of love?
Now, look at the New Testament. Every historical narrative, every parable, every story, every direct statement is an expansion of the love theme.
Loving God is pretty simple – at least conceptually. Of course, we are all guilty of telling God what to do and how to do it. That is not our job, but we all try to tell God the “right” way to do things anyway. Regardless, our real problem is usually with the loving our neighbor instructions.
Let’s go in two directions with the part about loving our neighbor. The first direction is the Social Gospel. Go read the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Plain, the Beatitudes, and countless other narratives and mini-narratives about feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, clothing the naked, etc., etc., etc. These are actually Old Testament commands that received extra emphasis in the New Testament. Does the Social Gospel frighten us? Of course. But the targets of the Social Gospel are the very people who are our neighbors. We don’t always like to admit it, but deep down we do know it is true. If we love God, we will keep the commands of the Social Justice Gospel. Not one of us is perfect at this. At the same time, not one of us is a total loss at it either. Every one of us needs to examine how we could do better – and then do it better! If we love Jesus, we will love each other, even the “others” we don’t want to love.
And that brings us to the second “loving our neighbor” direction. Do you love the person who wronged you so completely – physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually – that you will never heal? Do you love the drunk driver who killed a carload of innocent people? Do you love the politicians and the price gougers, the pharisees and the traitors, the drug lords and the mobsters? Those people are God’s kids too and God has the same unconditional love for them that God has for each of us.
Do you love Vladimir Putin? And what about the thousands of humans he has prematurely sent to storm the Pearly Gates before their time? Those hapless victims are easier to love than Putin himself because for the most part they are nameless and faceless. But they are real people – our brothers and sisters loved unconditionally by God – just as we are. But, so is Putin. So is Putin.
It’s not a case of “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” That is judgmental. Judgment is God’s job, not ours – even though most of us are very good at giving God directions. Our job is to love. As God loves us, so are we to love. As Jesus loves us, so are we to love. No “Yeah but...” statements either. God does not need our help
We need to ask ourselves several questions.
“Do I accept that God loves everyone unconditionally?”
“Do I accept that judgment is God’s job, not mine?”
“Do I accept that Jesus has told me that to be his disciple, I must love?”
We may need some help in climbing these mountains, but, if we all follow this discipleship/love initiative, we will all lovingly be following the command to love one another.
Jn 13:35 – Dr Roberta M Meehan D.Min.