5 Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are both new and old. It is old because Christianity was derived from Judaism since the time of Abraham. It is new because Jesus Christ came to found Christianity, a new religion, based on Judaism. He came to establish a new covenant ratified not by the blood of lamb and oxen, but by his own blood poured out on the cross for our sin. Through his death and resurrection, we are invited to share in his resurrection.
Baptism brings us to a new life, a life looking beyond temporal things and promising to share in the life of grace. In the Gospel, Jesus told us: I give you a new commandment: Love one another (Jn 13:34). Actually, it was not a new commandment in a sense that Jesus was the first person to pronounce it. The people in the Old Testament were already aware of it because it was written in the book of Leviticus: You shall love your neighbor as yourselves (Lev 19:18).
So why did Jesus call it the new commandment? Jesus knew in the human nature that our selfishness would prevent us from loving God and our neighbors. Therefore, the commandment of love has a new meaning in the sense that it has always to be renewed. How did Jesus love us? Jesus’ love for us is an unselfish, unrequited love. His love embraces forgiveness of sin. Human love is a selfish love, a requited love: I scratch your back, and you scratch mine.
Thus, to love as Jesus has loved, is to love as the love of Jesus impels us. The effect of our love for others is to bring God’s presence to others. To love as Jesus has loved is to love unselfishly. The love, which Jesus requires us to offer to others, is not a temporary feeling. If love is only a temporary feeling, then love is superficial. Real love must be a decision of the will, not dependent on feeling. Therefore, we may not like a certain person, but we have to make a decision not to hate that person, but to want good things for the person and pray for him or her.
To love as Jesus has loved embraces sacrifice and forgiveness. Jesus loved us so much that he suffered, died on the cross for the sin of the world. Peter denied Jesus three times and the apostles abandoned Him while he needed those most to be at his side. Yet he still forgave them when Peter showed repentance for his sin. To love as Jesus has loved is to aim at total and lasting happiness for others. To love as Jesus has loved is to aim at bringing Jesus’ redeeming grace to others. That was what Saints Paul and Barnabas did when they persuaded the disciples to keep their faith in Jesus as the Acts of the Apostles today tells us (Acts 14:22). Our love for others as impelled by the love of Christ without aiming at God’s saving grace for them is unthinkable.
Jesus said his commandment of love is a new commandment. When we love as Jesus loved, we renew in our heart an unrequited love for others. When a battery in our car is weakened or dead, we have to give it a jump from another running vehicle to boost the battery. In a similar way, when our love for others is weakened we need to find ways to strengthen it such as by making a retreat, by visiting a nursing home or a mental health institution. Observing people serving the suffering and the mentally ill in those places should help us increase our love for others.
When we put our love in our work of service, we will find our work lighter and more meaningful. To serve people means to serve God indirectly because people were created in God’s image and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. We might say, how we human beings can love as Jesus loved, because Jesus is God and we are human. To answer we need to realize that in Jesus there are two natures: divine nature and human nature.
In other words, Jesus is both God and man, but not fifty percent god and fifty percent man combined. In Jesus, there is one hundred percent divine nature and one hundred percent human nature except sin. When Jesus taught us to love as he has loved does not mean that we can imitate him to love in his divine nature. We cannot imitate him in his divine nature, but only in his human nature.
In his human nature, he loved us so much that he accepted suffering and death on the cross for our sin. Thus, we can imitate his love originated from his human nature. If we want to be Jesus’ true disciples, we have to try his new commandment of love anew again and again.
Prayer for loving as Jesus has loved:
Oh Lord Jesus Christ!
Out of love for sinful man
you were willing to suffer and die on the cross
for man to live.
Teach me how to love as you have loved us
so that our love for others
may bring about transformation. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong