5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
That phrase – “Love one another” – looks good on a bumper-sticker, or a cross-stitched pillow. We've heard it hundreds of times in homilies and lessons at school. We might even take it seriously and try to live it once and a while. But it's not always clear exactly what our Lord is commanding us to do. Is he commanding us to feel a certain way about everyone? Is he commanding us to express a certain sort of passion? He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That last bit – “as I have loved you” – is big qualifier. But even that doesn't do much to make things any clearer. Is he commanding us to die on a Cross for everyone? Why would he command that? He's already sacrificed himself for us. . .once for all. If look back over Jesus' public ministry we can something of what he might mean by this last command. He teaches the truth of the Father's mercy. He preaches the necessity of repentance from sin in order to receive that mercy. He heals the sick, the lame, the blind. He feeds the hungry – both the physically hunger and the spiritually hungry. And he proclaims the Kingdom of God by forgiving sinners. This is how he loves us. And this is how we love one another as he loves us. We preach and teach the truth. We repent and receive mercy. We help for those who need help, and we forgive one another so that the Kingdom may be proclaimed.
Pop quiz: which one of the disciples didn't hear Jesus' last command? Judas. Judas leaves the table, and then Jesus begins, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. . .” Jesus waits until the Betrayer is gone before giving his last lesson in love to his friends. Why? B/c the treasonous disciple cannot bear witness to this truth, meaning, literally, he cannot. Even had he stayed with the others, we could not see it. He does not love the Lord; he does not love his brother disciples. He loves worldly glory and riches. He is blind to the heavenly glory that Christ shows to those who choose to love him. Had he stayed, Judas would not have heard Jesus say, “Love one another.” The ears of a traitor are closed to loyalty and love. And b/c loving one another is a hardship, betrayal come easily to those to who refuse to love. Judas didn't just sell his teacher for a pocketful of silver. He didn't just deny Christ and walk away. From the moment he listened to the offer to betray Christ – he sold his own soul. He sold the Way, the Truth, and the Life. . .and he sold his soul to the Enemy.
Judas refuses Christ's love, allowing the powers of this world to buy his integrity, his strength as a Good Man, as a man of God. He uses his friendship with Jesus to sell our Lord to his enemies. The powers of this world set a hardship for Judas. And he chose the easy work-around, the profitable exit. In other words, he compromises the very thing that made him a man of God, worthy of trust. Judas accommodates himself to the spirit of the age and ends his own life with a noose. We know all too well that the spirit of our own age is busy setting hardships for us. We are tempted to infect the Gospel with false religions. Compromise with secular power for material gain. Accommodate our moral principles for the sake of social standing. Surrender our freedoms in the name of security. And many of us lose our battles with these temptations. Many of us exhaust our strength by resisting. Here's what we need to know now: when we love another as Christ loves us, we have no need for a gospel other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ; when we love one another as Christ loves us, we don't need material gain, social standing, or security from the state. Everything we need is given by God so that we might live wholly in His love.
Judas did not believe this. He thought he needed 30 pieces of silver. So, he died a traitor's death. Christ's love tells the truth; it never compromises or accommodates, nor do those who love one another in Christ. Jesus orders us, “As I [love] you, so you also should love one another.” His Passion and death began when the traitor left the table. Ours begins when we approach this table. . .and dare to share in his last meal.
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