“If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love”
We have one of the most beautiful passages from the Gospel of John for our reflection today.The Gospel and the second readings are well connected with the theme of love. Jesus gives us his commandment of love. “This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you”.
What is love?Bishop Fulton Sheen says that it is the most used and misused four letters word in English language. However John uses the Greek word agapein his gospel and in the three letters attributed to him. Pope Benedict the XVI in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Estspeaks about “three aspects of love”The first of these is eros , which is applied to romantic love, often considered to be selfish than genuine. The second is philia,which in a way is the love of friendship, is essentially mutual and shared, and touches every aspect of a person’s being expressing itself in a total transparency through intimacy. Finally, agape describes a love, which reaches out to others without expecting anything in return. Such is the love of God for his creation. God’s loves is poured out in abundance on every single creature and it continues to flow out whether there is a response or not. This is the love, which the father in the story of the Prodigal Son shows to the wayward son who has gone far away and wasted all his father’s gifts on a debauched life. It is that love of agape, which we too, are supposed to have. It is this love that enables us to love our enemies and want to be reconciled with them. To love them with agape is to want the very best for them, to want them to reform, to be changed and healed of hate and negativity.
Where there is God, there is love: John says today, “Wherever there is love, there is God”. He does not say, “Wherever there are Christians, there is God” or “Wherever there is a Christian church, there is God”. But, wherever there is a person filled with real agape-love for others, God is there. That is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He was called “good” not because he was a religious person but because he reached out in compassionate love for someone who was supposed to be his enemy. Wherever in the world there is truth, compassion, justice, true freedom and peace, God is certainly there.
What gives value to my life?Perhaps I have been baptized, perhaps my family is Catholic for a long time, perhaps I fervently go to Mass every Sunday, perhaps I carefully keep all the Ten Commandments, yet if I do not really love and reach out in solidarity to brothers and sisters, whoever they are and wherever they are, I do not have God’s life in me. Paul put it well when writing to the Christians of Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). God loves me unconditionally but that love is not in me if I am not passing it on to others.
One commandment: In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us just one commandment. He does not say, “Love Jesus or love God as I have loved you”. No, he says, “If you want to be my disciple, then you must love one another, as I have loved you.” If we really love our brothers and sisters, including strangers and even enemies, we do not have to worry if we love God. But, if we do not love everyone unconditionally, then there is no other way I can claim to love Jesus. I need to love those God loves (with agape) and God loves every single person without exception, even the most wicked. In practice, of course, it is not always so easy. We need to learn slowly how to love people unconditionally. Our lower instincts and the prevailing culture around us think differently. Yet, we need to learn that the way of Jesus is in fact more in tune with our deeper nature. To love and to be loved is an innate desire in every human being. We do not like to hate people and hating does terrible things to our minds and our bodies. We like people to be our friends and do not like them to be our enemies.
Love and commandments:Love is not to be understood in terms of keeping rules and commandments. Love is a way of life. It is an internal attitude, which influences every single thing we do and say and think. The love of a Christian needs to be unconditional. Sometimes people will love us back; sometimes they will not. Sometimes, even though we want to love people, they may reject us. If they do reject us, we need not necessarily think that we have done wrong. When people cannot return genuine love, it is they who have the problem. Sad to say, not everyone is capable of loving. Then there is all the more reason why we need to reach out to them. People often learn to love by being loved.
The most important thing is not that I am very clever, very successful, very rich, and very famous. The most important thing is that I am someone who really loves. When I genuinely love others, there will always be some who cannot love me back but there will be others who will really respond in love.
True love is sacrificial. The model of this ultimate self-giving love is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10:11). In this Easter season, it is good to focus our attention on the great act of love that the Good Shepherd carried out for us by his saving sacrifice on the cross. For, as he himself says: A greater love no one has than to give his life for his friends. This is indeed the greatest love that ever anyone had. But yet had our Savior a greater, for he gave his for both friend and foe.” Indeed, God is the love that appeared in the person of Jesus Christ. He brought this sacrificial love to perfection in his death on the cross and his rising to new life. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us the various aspects of this love. Christian love is, first of all, a participation in the love of the Father and the Son. It springs forth from the love of the Father and the Son.
Love is forgiving: The ability to forgive shows the quality of love. Jesus taught us and showed us in His life. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The other examples are the forgiving of woman caught in adultery, sitting with tax collectors Mathew and Zacchaeus and forgiving the Peter even after he denied him.
Love expressed in serving: Jesus said I have come not to be served, but serve and give my life as a ransom for many. He washed the feet of his disciples and asked them to follow His example. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, taught the ignorant and accepted the rejected.