21 May 2006

Ridiculous Commandment

6th Sunday of Easter 2006
Acts 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4.7-10; John 15.9-17
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX


Jesus concludes this farewell in John with a simple enough admonition: “This I command you: love one another.” He has called his disciples friends and told them everything that he has heard from His Father. He’s told them that they are the chosen not the choosers. And he’s admonished them to bear fruit and ask of the Father what they need. Can’t you see the disciples sitting there with him, wide-eyed, expecting another astonishing revelation, some thundering pronouncement on the nature of divinity or redemption or the end times. And what does he say? He commands them to love one another! Uh? Love one another? Sure. Says you. You’re God. You are Love. Loving is what You do b/c Love is Who You Are. Not so easy for us poor creatures. Have you looked at these people you want us to love? Have you talked to them?! Do you know what you’re asking?

Ah. You see, there’s the problem: he isn’t asking us to love one another. He’s commanding us to love one another. And the difference between asking and commanding tells us all we need to know about the nature of Christian love, of charity in the Spirit.

Jesus says to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” How does the Father love the Son? The Father and the Son love one another absolutely, unconditionally, without prejudice or complaint. They are One in the love that is the Holy Spirit. And Jesus loves us in exactly this way: completely, categorically, without reservation or criticism. When we keep his commandments, we too remain in his love, we too are One with Him in the love that is the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus commands us to love one another, commands us to live day-to-day in the love of the Blessed Trinity.

Why? Why does Jesus command us to love one another? On the face of it, it is a ridiculous command. Love cannot be commanded. It can be encouraged or exhorted or reciprocated or found. But commanded? How can a passion be commanded? You either love or you don’t. Simply put: love can be commanded, ordered when we understand that love is also about acting, willing the good for another.

Love is not just a passion; it is also the movement of the body and soul toward goodness for another, a movement of the body and soul toward needing the best for others, wanting deeply what is right and true for your neighbors. If we limit love to the smallness of a cuddly tingling in our bellies, make it into little more than a physical reaction to physical attraction, we make it impossible to obey Christ; essentially, we make it impossible for us to know and live joy. Think about it: if love is only about the passion we have for those we find attractive, then we cannot love one another in the way that the Father loves the Son nor in the way that the Son loves us. We fail in joy.

Jesus tells his disciples outright: if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. He explains: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” The commandment to love is a revelation, it reveals to us and for us the way to perfected joy, our means of achieving finished delight, total peace. To fail in joy, then, is spiritual suicide; it is the death of our peace, the impossibility of ever finding delight in the Lord—to fail in joy is to fail to love.

Ask yourself: how do I fail to love? When do I simply refuse to will the good, refuse to move body and soul toward others in mercy? When do I narrow my love to immediate family, friends and fail to emulate the Father’s love for His Son by failing to love effusively even the apparently unlovable? Who is it that I cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve my love? Who will I not love until he/she loves me first? Do I withhold my love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Do I use my love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is my love a costume for show or a mask for the public or a flashy piece of glass pretending to be a diamond—dazzling and deceiving?

Ask yourself: did Jesus fail to love? Did he simply refuse to will the good, refuse to move his body and soul toward others in mercy? Did he narrow his love to just his immediate family, friends? Did he fail to emulate the Father’s love? Did he fail to love effusively even the apparently unlovable? Who is it that Christ cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve Jesus’ love? Who will Christ not love until he/she loves him first? Does Jesus withhold his love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Does Jesus use his love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is Christ’s love a costume for show or a mask for the public? Is his love for us dazzling and deceiving?

We are commanded to love one another in the same way that the Father loves Jesus and in the same way that Jesus loves us. When we disobey this command, when we choose apathy, spiritual sloth, we choose the death of our joy; we kill deliberately our peace, our delight, and we rot the fruits of the Spirit. Rushing in to fill the vacuum left by dead and dying fruit: anxiety, anger, restlessness, dangerous curiosity/ears itching for spiritual novelty, despair, melancholy, loneliness, mistrust, desperation, pain, and a life in lived in constant emergency, constant distress.

If love brings perfect joy and you are not joyful in the Lord, then perhaps you need to think seriously about how you love or about how you fail to love. It is not too bold to claim that most, if not all, of our spiritual diseases can be diagnosed as failures to obey our Lord’s commandment to love one another. John writes to us in his letter this morning: “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” No love, no God, no joy, no peace.

The disease of spiritual apathy, to be without a passion for goodness, to be willfully despairing, this is the greatest gift we can give the Devil. He wants our disobedience, our rebellion against the Father’s love but what he wants more than our disobedience is our allegiance to the lie that our Father will not forgive us our violence against His mercy, our resistance to his love. The Devil yearns for our Yes to the proposition that this or that sin is too big, too deep, too horrible, too frequent to be forgiven, to be forgotten in love. Reach this point in your spiritual life and you have delighted the Devil; his joy, perverse and twisted though it is, is complete when you fail to love and when you come to believe that God is capable of failing in love. To believe that God will not, cannot forgive you is atheism.

Love one another because you are commanded to love. Love one another because you are made to love. Love one another because you are no longer slaves but friends. Love one another because Christ loved us in his suffering, his death, and his rising again. Love one another because to do anything less, anything smaller or meaner is to delight the Devil and forsake your soul.


2 comments:

  1. R.B.Williams, OP11:26 AM

    You asked for comments, so I will occasionally offer same. To this very good homily I would offer only this comment. Love is more than "willing" good for another. In the Gospel of John, the example of the washing of the feet is given (ch 13). In Matthew 25, a graphic scene is portrayed. In Luke 10, the parable of the Good Samaritan provides the physical evidence for the lawyer's question. As St. Paul points out, "what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners." The "rubber" of good will has to "meet the road of human need!"

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  2. Thanks, RB! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

    Fr. Philip, OP

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