5th Sunday of Easter (C)

A New Jerusalem, a new heaven and earth, anda new commandment. 

Today’s Gospel reading comes from St. John’s Gospel, known as “The Last Discourse,” which took place at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus went to the Cross. This farewell discourse is a powerful and intimate part of Jesus’ teachings; on the Christian concepts of glory and love. 

However history does not show that our records are really encouraging and praiseworthy.  Fourth century we started killing others for their different theological opinions. St. Robert Bellarmine was instrumental in burning the philosopher Giordano Bruno for saying that the universe is infinite and there could be other solar systems. Galileo was imprisoned holding the belief that earth revolves around the sun. St John of Arc led troops to conquer city of Orleans and crowned Prince Charles VII as king. As a result the opposing Catholics burnt her alive accusing her of heresy and witchcraft. The 16thcentury reformation began with the constant war between Catholics and Protestants. Even today countries like Ireland, Serbia, Croatia, Lebanon and many other places the fight continues in the name of Christ. It is said that peace in the world could be achieved only when Christians stop killing one another. 

Today it is good to reflect the impact of this civilization of love on our life and society. Unfortunately we are not better than the other societies. There exist lies, cruelties, exploitation, injustice and oppression of the vulnerable. The peace of our homes has been destroyed by violence and hatred. The sanctity of so many Christian families is no more relevant because of various reasons. We have been given the mandate by Christ to conquer the world with love, but even after 2000 years we have failed, because we have not started with ourselves.

The new commandment:In the second part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, he gives his followers a new commandment:  they must love one another as he has loved them.  They would be known, not by the sign of the fish, or even of the cross, but by their mutual love, the fruit of their conversion. The depth, breadth, and force of the love we extend to others are the only measure of the faithfulness of our actions and institutions. The command of Jesus is both new and old. It repeats the precept of Lev. 19:18 to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. What is new is that this love characterizes the new life inaugurated by Jesus and is proof of one’s love for God (1 Jn. 4:7). This love opens our eyes to facts that we might otherwise overlook: that the poor in the world belong to our family; that those who live in despair might be saved by our care of them; that peace can come to the world through our efforts

The nature of Christian love: Bishop Fulton Sheen says it is most used and misused word in English language. The Greek word Eros, which is for selfish love, Philia, which is for friendship and Agapewhich is loving the other for the other’s sake without anything in it for oneself. It is the kind of love with which God loves us, a love that should be the model of the love we have for others. It is strong, positive, difficult, determined action.  Jesus repeats the command to love one another three times, first explaining what it is (“a new commandment”),how it is to be applied  (“as I have loved you“), and finally witnessing that this love would stand as the trademarkof his disciples. Not only is this a new commandment, but also Jesus teaches that it is the greatest.  To love, in fact, is to know God—”Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). The early Christians practiced this love literally. That is why Tertullianstated that the heathens held the Christian congregations in high regard: “See, how these Christians love one another.”  

St. Paul writing to the Corinthiansspeaks so beautifully about the qualities of this love. I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angles, but if I have no love my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all the knowledge and understand all the secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains- but without love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt- but without love, this does me no good.  Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not selfish or irritable; love does not keep record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but delights in the truth……… Everything will pass away, but faith, hope and love will remain and the greatest of this is love.

No law but love: No law could prevent the tax collector from exploiting the people, but the loving words from Jesus changed the tax collectors like Matthew and Zachaeus. The harsh law with death penalty could not prevent sexual immorality in the society, but the loving gesture of Jesus could convert the woman caught in adultery. No law by Moses prevented people from abandoning their parents in their old age (Mt 15:1-7) but love of Jesus could. And no Sabbath law could heal the crippled man but the love of Jesus. It was love of Jesus that changed the good thief on the cross, not the death penalty that he had received.

Pope emeritus Benedict explained what is new in this commandment of Jesus in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (p64-65). It is new because to live this new commandment we have to immerse ourselves in Jesus, immerse ourselves in Jesus’ mercy. Why do we have to immerse our lives in Jesus to live this new commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? Because to love in this way as Jesus commands is impossible by mere human efforts; it takes a divine grace within us to love in this way. We can only love in this way with the grace of God. Loving in this new way is only possible in the New Covenant because we have the grace of Jesus in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, and we have the Holy Spirit since Baptism and Confirmation. We have Jesus with us to help us love in his way.