5th Week of Easter (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
Of all the strange things our Lord has said—and he's said some pretty strange things—the last command he issues to the disciples is probably the strangest of all. He commands them to love one another. And if that's not strange enough, he goes on to command them to love one another as he loves them. Not just any old sort of mundane love, not just to think good thoughts or say nice things. . .but to love each other in the same way that he loves each of them. Perhaps the only thing he could say to make this any stranger would be something like, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Of course, he does say this and this whole episode moves from the unusual to the outright bizarre. Now, you might be thinking that there's nothing all that unusual or bizarre about Jesus commanding us to love one another as he loves us, or that dying for a friend is the greatest sort of love we can give. As a Church, we've lived with these ideas for centuries, and we've heard them repeated and expounded upon countless times. But as members of the Church in the 21st century, we are the beneficiaries of a Judeo-Christian culture that lifts up divine love not only as an ideal but as a real possibility. Even when we fail as individuals and as a culture to love one another we recognize the obligation to do so, and we mark our failures as failures. What's so strange about Jesus' command to love one another is that he thinks that love is something that can be commanded.
What if we were to act as though love was something we deserved, something we are entitled to. What if we engraved in our laws and civil customs the idea that each of us—in virtue of just being born—has the natural right to be loved by everyone else. Like the right to vote or the right to free speech, the right to be loved is now fundamental to the constitution of our republic. Would this reform comply with our Lord's command? Law-suit happy citizens would be delighted. Trial lawyers would certainly be delirious. But would love given under the threat of legal action really be love? Or would we eventually come to understand love in strictly behavioral terms? I could fake love by acting lovingly in order to avoid having to pay damages. We would have stacks of Supreme Court rulings detailing various tests for true love, complete with dissenting opinions objecting to the very notion that love can be quantified. Before the ink is dry on the Love Amendment, the Lord's command would be destroyed b/c we would have reduced it to a natural right, that is, a legal prohibition against not-loving. Yes, it would be a command but would it be what the Lord actually ordered? No, it wouldn't.
The Lord's command to love only makes sense if we are first his disciples and then his friends; only if we first sit at his feet to listen and learn and then become his companions on the Way. His authority to command us derives from our surrender to him, from our willingness to be commanded—our freely given consent at the beginning our discipleship to follow wherever he leads. That kind of surrender takes enormous amounts of trust and not only trust in him but trust in one another. We cannot obey the command to love God w/o loving each and every one of His children. In fact, we show our love for Him by loving one another. If you think that's easy, try it. Try willing the good for your worst enemy for just one hour. Will all happiness and joy for someone who has injured you most. Will all blessings and success for someone who loathes you, someone who would see you humiliated or destroyed. Even better, will every good thing for the one you would see injured or humiliated. Difficult? Oh yes. And thus the necessity and the wisdom of the Lord's command. Could we even begin to love w/o the love he has shown us? Would we even know where to start? He suffered death to show us the Way to love. We followed. Now, it's our turn to lead.
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