6th Sunday of Eastertide (a)
Today’s gospel beings with love and commandments and ends with love and commandments. We heard at the beginning, “Jesus, said to his disciples: If you love me you will keep my commandments.” And then at the end the same sentiment only the words reversed: “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me.” So Jesus is clearly equating love and commandments.
At first it doesn’t sound too attractive, if that is the word. Commandments are laws and laws are something we have to keep. So what has that to do with love? Besides, many people would say that laws stop you from enjoying life; they would even say that we Christians can’t enjoy life because we have to keep the commandments. But they are wrong, and they are very wrong.
The commandments begin with love: love God with all your heart and all your soul, and the second is love your neighbour as yourself. So we are commanded to love. Not asked to, or invited to, but commanded. We have no choice. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are to be his true disciples then we must keep the commandments.
To love God, the first commandment, can seem easy. We can say we love God, that’s easy, it doesn’t cost us anything. “I love God. Of course I do”. It is a matter of course. But how do you know you are loving God? How do you measure it? The way we measure it is by the second commandment: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. It is not a matter of course to love our neighbour. When we love our neighbour all is well. Of course, it is easy to love some people. People are good. Most people in families love each other. There can of course be ups and downs but there is love.
But it is not always the case. Even in families there can be things said and done which are not forgotten nor forgiven. As a result many a family is torn. Sometimes family members can stop talking to each other for years. And that happens in families. I know people this has happened to.
So the challenge for us Christians is to love those we find it hard to love. Obviously, this can be really difficult. And, of course, the temptation is to give up. To say I can’t ever love this person; and I don’t want to even try; so don’t even begin to tell me I must.
Yet we read earlier, “Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t understand. He knows of what we are made. He knows the difficulties that occur in many families; he knows that in-laws can become out-laws. He knows these things but he continues to say to us: “love one another”. Indeed, he doesn’t say this, he commands it!
Christ says to us: “I love you”. I love you with all your faults and failings. And he really does know our faults and failings; he knows us through and through; indeed, he knows us better than we know ourselves. And yet, in spite of all the things we have done wrong, he continues to love us. He loves us even when we don’t love ourselves. This is pure unconditional love. He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect, to be sinless, to be holy; he loves us now as we are, warts and all.
Now if we really believe this then the second commandment makes more sense. I must love my neighbour. The secret is to remember Christ’s unconditional love for you. Remembering this you should reason: why shouldn’t I love my neighbour. At least I must try. And that is all God asks. He doesn’t ask that all will change, that from now on all will be reconciled, we’ll live happily ever after. However, if I decide to obey God’s commandments then I am beginning to change. And that is all God asks of you. He just asks you to try. He will do the rest.
“Anyone who receives my commandments” says Jesus, “and keeps them will be one who loves me”. This is the message of Easter. It is the essence of the Gospel: love is not a option, it’s a command. But the one who loves, even those he or she finds it difficult to love, will have fulfilled the Gospel; they will be happy in themselves and in life. And others will share in their happiness. Remember: everything is possible for the one who loves God.