13th May. 6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48. Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, became the first pagan to receive the grace of Christian Baptism. God’s grace of salvation is offered to all.
1 Jn 4:7-10. Love is from God… or going even further, Saint John says that God is love. Only by loving do we rightly respond to him.
Jn 15:9-17. Jesus on the night before he died gives his friends the supreme commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you”.
Theme: Love may be many-splendoured, but in the popular media, it is a hackneyed term with little relation to the Christian commandment. Love is never selfish and always carries a personal price.
Many of us will remember parents or teachers giving dire warnings about our choice of friends. They would often use such a phrase as “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are,” or the one about the bad apple and its undesirable influence. A message came through that the people with whom we associate have an abiding influence upon us. The more we hang around them, the more we take on board their values.
Jesus (who also gives occasional dire warnings) was well aware of the ways in which others influence us. In today’s Gospel Jesus offers a practical strategy that helps us to handle the occasional “bad apple” that comes into our life. Rather than just saying, “Stay away,” Jesus uses his own influence. He invites us to remain with Jesus himself, to ‘hang around him” so to speak and develop a friendship and familiarity in his presence. In this way, we can’t help but be influenced by him, take on board his own value system and ways of relating with others.
I often wondered about the children who actually belonged to the warned against category and what warning they might have been given. Who knows, they may have needed to be warned to steer clear of you and I!
Choosing and being chosen
The experience of being chosen by someone can be a affirming one. The experience might be as simple as someone choosing us to be their referee. They trust us enough to give them a good reference if we are asked about them. The experience of being chosen can be more significant than that. At the root of every happy marriage is the fact that two people chose and kept on choosing each other. At the heart of every true friendship between people is a similar choice. Two people choose to befriend each other; they each choose the other in a way that makes their relationship something special and unique. As in marriage, the choice has to be mutual if the friendship is to be an enduring reality. When the choice is one-sided rather than mutual, there can be heartbreak for the one who chooses but is not chosen in return. One of the really difficult experiences of life is that of choosing someone who does not reciprocate our choice, for whatever reason.
In the gospel reading today we find Jesus using this language of choice and friendship. He says to his disciples, “I chose you,” “I call you friends.” We can each hear those words as addressed to us. The disciples in John’s gospel represent us all, each one of us. When Jesus speaks of the greater love that leads him to lay down his life for his friends, we are all included among those friends. He has laid down his life for us all. Like St. Paul we can each speak about the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. In laying down his life for us on the cross, Jesus chose each of us; he called each of us his friend. His death loudly proclaimed the message, “You are my friends.” The Lord continues to make that same proclamation at every celebration of the Eucharist, because the Mass makes present the self-giving death of Jesus in every generation, to every community that gathers. At this Mass, the Lord continues to address to us those same words that he addressed to his disciples at the last supper, “You are my friends,” “I chose you.” In our own lives to choose one means not to choose another. This is not the case with the Lord. He chooses each of us equally. As Peter says in the first reading, “God does not have favourites.”
If I choose someone as a friend, I long for that person to make a similar choice of me. In a similar way, the Lord’s choice of us seeks and desires our choice of him. He has chosen us first. As he said to his disciples in the gospel reading, “You did not choose me, no, I chose you.” But having chosen us, he waits for us to reciprocate that choice. A few chapters earlier in John’s gospel, at a time when many people stopped following Jesus, he turned to his disciples and said to them, “Do you also wish to go away?” This was the moment when Jesus was putting it up to them to reciprocate the choice he had made of them. At that highly charged moment, Peter came forward on behalf of them all and said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the message of eternal life.” Peter, as spokesperson for the others, publicly declared his choice of Jesus.
There are moments in all our lives when we too are given an opportunity to declare our choice of the one who has chosen us. We can find ourselves at a variety of crossroads in life when we have some important decisions to make. Such crossroads are one opportunity to choose the Lord, to make the kind of decision that declares to the Lord, “I have chosen you.” Even the making of smaller decisions is an invitation to choose the Lord. The gospel reading this morning strongly suggests that our choice of the Lord is lived out in the way we relate to each other, in the way we love each other. Jesus calls on us to love one another as he has loved us. He asks us to befriend one another as he has befriended us. It is striking that he says love one another as I have loved you and not love me as I have loved you. Our choice of the Lord becomes flesh in the way we relate to one another. We declare that the Lord is our friend by befriending each other as he has befriended us.
Yet, before we can really make our choice of the Lord, we need to receive his choice of us, and to rejoice in that choice. We need to let ourselves hear those words of the Lord, “I call you friends, I chose you,” and to hear them as addressed to us, to me. Hearing those words and somehow experiencing the love they express is foundational on our life’s journey. It is the only foundation on which our choice of the Lord can rest. We believe that the Lord’s choice of us endures, even when we fail him. Peter made this discovery. When he reneged on his choice of the Lord and denied him three times, the risen Lord met him by the shore of the sea of Galilee and asked him one question, “Do you love me?” This question was an invitation to Peter to renew his choice. That same invitation is repeatedly given to us throughout our lives. The Eucharist is one such invitation. At Mass we both celebrate the Lord’s choice of us and we also renew our choice of him. When we respond to the invitation to take and eat, we take the Lord, we renew our choice him as our way, our truth and our life.
Two of today’s readings are from St John, whose gospel is seen by commentators from the beginning of the Christian era as having pride of place in the whole of sacred scripture, principally because of its insistence on grace, on the love of God, on eternal redemption being purely and freely a gift to us from God. Tradition has it that John lived to a great age, such that he had to be carried each Sunday into the place where the Christian community at Ephesus gathered to celebrate the Blessed Eucharist. Because of the veneration in which he was held, he was invariably asked to address the little congregation, and invariably he spoke about the love of God, to the extent that even these devout and committed early Christians grew a little weary of the same recurring theme. John, however, took little heed of their requests for a change of subject. He persisted in his refusal to speak about anything else, because for him the central theme of the whole Christian message was enshrined in the love of God. “We believe in love,” was the motto of those who were in full agreement with John.
This could easily have become an empty slogan, were it not that John had stated clearly what he meant by love, and our attention is drawn to it in today’s second reading. “This is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us, when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away.” The tremendous truth about God is not that he loves us or that he is a loving or lovable being, but rather that, in himself, he is the act itself of love. This means, moreover, that God by his nature gives and shares of his inner self. It also means that those who receive the gift of God’s love must mirror God’s sharing also. God’s love was such as to impel him to give his only Son so that we might have life through him. And God shows no partiality or preference in the way he loves. The merits of his Son are available to all without distinction of any kind, provided they have faith and really desire to be of one mind with Jesus.
At first Israel was chosen by God, not for its own sake, but that it might bring before all people the revelation of the love of God, especially as shown in the person of his divine Son. We too have been chosen and commissioned, to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). Each of us can truly say: God’s love brought me into being, it sustains me, it will never let me down. God is concerned about me. He reads my thoughts, my emotions, my desires. He knows my joys, my sorrows, my weaknesses, my strengths. He is close to me in times of laughter or of tears, in illness or in health.
I am quite incapable of loving myself to the same degree that God loves me. God is even closer to me than I am to myself. Through the prophet Isaiah (49:16) God addresses to me the consoling words, “See upon the palm of my hand I have written your name.” Indeed, in the person of Jesus, God, as it were, reaches out to us with two hands – the one extended in forgiveness which saves us from being engulfed here and now in our evil ways, the other casting a ray of light beyond the portals of death, reminding us that as God raised Christ from the. dead, so he will redeem us too, when we have completed our earthly existence. That we are able to grasp those hands of God extended to us, that we are able to cling to them steadfastly, is more a gift of God’s grace that our own accomplishment. No amount of self-pruning, of teeth-gritting human striving, will bring us any closer to God.
But if we try and go through life in the steady conviction that God’s loving care is drawing us, watching over us, then we will cease to worry about our own happiness, about what we even regard as perfection, what we would like ourselves to be when we come before God. Strange as it may seem, faith in God’s love for us frees us from all kinds of inner striving and pressure, and yet at the same time brings us to a closer and more complete commitment to God. If, day after day, we know ourselves as loved by God, then all that will matter will be his love, his will, God himself.
“There are three things that last,” St Paul tells us, “faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). For coming into the presence of God, faith will give way to vision, hope will be replaced by attainment, but love will continue to be bestowed and cherished for all eternity.
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:25-26, 33-35, 44-48
On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”
Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
Second Reading: First Epistle of St. John 4:7-10
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Gospel: John 15:9-17
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.