“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them… he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:1-4).
Dear friends in Christ, it is now five weeks ago since we celebrated Easter. The question we must ask ourselves is: “What difference has Easter made to my life?” In other words, as today’s opening prayer puts it, “Am I bearing much fruits as I ought to?” On the second Sunday of Easter, we reflected on the forgiveness and mercy displayed by Jesus. Am I more forgiving of others now? The third Sunday of Easter, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him more than the huge catch of fish. Do I value Jesus more than the things of this world now?
On the fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus told us that His sheep hear his voice, he knows them and they follow Him. Have I improved in my personal reading of the Bible and practising it (following Jesus)? Today being the fifth Sunday, our Gospel passage takes us back to that familiar Holy Thursday night scene when Jesus was at table with His disciples having the Last Supper meal. Judas had just gone out to sell Jesus and Jesus knew exactly what would happen.
One would have expected Jesus to become angry or try to stop Judas, instead, Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). The first question for us today is: “Can I love others as purely and as sacrificially as Jesus loved us?” and secondly, “If I knew someone was planning to do something bad and evil to me would I act like Jesus?”
Lesson One: What is “New” about this Command?
In his homily for this Sunday titled “Love Revolution” Fr. Gerald Musa noted that “Jesus is the greatest and most influential revolutionary who changed world order without using guns and bombs… He preached against the reciprocal law of love which says love those who love you; do good to those who do good to you and lend your money to those who lend you theirs. Jesus reversed this form of love by challenging His followers to be different.”
The new thing about this new command is that it teaches us to love those who hate us. It teaches us to make sacrifices for others even when they would never make a sacrifice for us in return. It teaches us to love like Jesus who laid down His life for us our sake on the cross. What makes this commandment new is not the fact that it changes the Ten Commandments rather, it summarizes them and brings all of them to fulfilment. While the Ten Commandments tell us what NOT to do, (Thou shall not…, thou shall not…), this new commandment tells us what we MUST do: to love one another as Jesus loved us, to love our enemies, to love without expecting anything in return, to love those we know would betray us and sell us like Judas Iscariot.
Lesson Two: When we Love like Jesus, God Himself dwells in our Midst.
In today’s second reading, we hear John speak of a new heaven and a new earth. The hallmark of this new heaven and new earth is God dwelling in the midst of men. Then there shall be no more tears, no more pain or sorrow, no more death or mourning. In his first letter, this same John writes: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God… He who does not love does not know God; for God is love…. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us (1 John 4:7-12).
You see, when we juxtapose the revelation of John with what he says in his first letter, one clear fact emerges: The new heaven and the new earth is what happens when we love one another as Jesus loved us. God is love and wherever true love exists, God is right there. Imagine a world where everyone is willing to sacrifice for the good of the other; a world where there would be no gap between the rich and the poor. Imagine a world free from kidnapping, armed banditry, greed, selfishness and hatred. That world is the new heaven and the new earth. We can make it happen if we love like Christ.
Lesson Three: “This Kind of Love is What Makes us Jesus’ Disciples.”
In the last line of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus said: “By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:34). This simply means without sacrificial love for one another, we who claim to be Christians are nothing short of a disgrace to Christ. We are negative advertisements of the person we claim to be following. Even though we go to church, we are not yet Christians.
The sad reality is that many of us are still living in the old dispensation. We still believe and practice the old system of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Easter has not made any impact on us. We are still unable to forgive, we still value the things of this world more than God, so we are ready to fight to the finish and hold lawsuits over material things. Our love for one another is conditional; it is according to that popular song, “do-me-I-do-you” kind of love. We stop giving once we stop getting.
Jesus noted: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:32-36).
From the above statement of Jesus, we can see that at the heart of loving like Christ is forgiveness. We can only say we have loved like Christ when we are able to pray like Christ on the Cross: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). No matter what anyone has done to you, it can never be greater than the power of love. A Christian who cannot forgive is not yet born again; he or she has not encountered Christ.
Lesson Four: To Love Like Christ, We Must See Christ in Others.
In today’s first reading, the mention is made of several towns Paul and Barnabas visited strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations they would enter the kingdom of God. One unique thing about these towns mentioned in this passage is that they are not traditionally Jewish towns.
In fact, our first reading today ends by saying: “when they arrived, they gathered the Church together and declared all that God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” What was behind the drive of Paul and Barnabas? What propelled them to visit these Gentile towns and speak with strangers? One simple answer is Love; the love that does not discriminate; the love that is able to see Christ in everyone regardless of tribe, colour or language.
In conclusion, any love that is trade by barter, any love that only gives in expectation of getting back, any love that does not have Christ as its centre and model is in every sense a fake love. Today, Jesus gives us a new command, to love in imitation of the love He displayed by dying on the cross for us. This is the kind of love that qualifies us as His disciples and this love does not discriminate among persons.