Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year B
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4:7-10
Over the past week, beginning with last Sunday’s Gospel and for six days altogether, we have been listening to and meditating on the 15th chapter of St John’s Gospel. We conclude the chapter with tomorrow’s Gospel. The Church highlights for us the central importance of this chapter: Jesus tells His disciples: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.” We must bear fruit of good works so prove to disciples of Jesus. “Abide in me and I in you”. Today we hear a new commandment: “Love one another”, says Jesus, “as I have loved you.” As I have loved you …. We are familiar with the two great commandments to love God and love your neighbour as yourself. But now Jesus gives a new depth to these commandments: His standard is now that they love one another as He has loved them, as He loves us. As in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus does not alter the law, but He does place Himself at the centre, with His repetition of “You have heard it said … but I say to you …”: He is truly God and man, one Person. He is the vine, we are the branches. We draw our life from Him as the vine branches draw sap from the vine and bear fruit. Otherwise we run the risk of being cut off from the vine like the dead branches.
“Love one another as I have loved you.” A further depth to this life and new commandment is that the disciples of Jesus are no longer His mere servants but they are His friends. Of course this friendship does not suppress the distinction of ranks. Jesus calls His disciples now “friends” rather than “servants” because He has made known to them all that He has heard from His Father – that is regarding this new Way, this new Life. But we only remain His friends in so far as we do what He has commanded us to, to love one another as He has loved us. The branches need the sap of the vine in order to produce fruit. And what is the sap? It is charity, the Divine Love that has been poured into our hearts through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is Love. God is Love.
St Augustine in his beautiful homilies on the First Letter of St John makes the point that actions when viewed purely from the exterior can seem very similar. But what is the motive of our action? The Father gave over His Son for love of the world. Jesus gave over His life, purely voluntarily as the price of our redemption, to save us from our sins, to redeem us. He redeemed us, enabling us to go forth and bear fruit, to bear fruit that befits repentance. Judas, on the other hand, gave over the life of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver! Jesus gave up His life in complete freedom for He had the power to lay down His Life and to take it up again. This is love, to lay down ones life for ones friends. This is Divine Love that has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit. But Judas was held bound by his own selfish desires, working from completely difference motives, without love. St Augustine encapsulates this difference in one of his brilliant and brief succinct notions that only he could master: “Dilige, et quod vis fac”! “Love, and do what you want.” It sounds on first hearing completely different to “Love one another as I have loved you.” But they are identical as is clear from the context of what St Augustine writes. The key is the motive. We must act out of charity, out of that Divine Love which has been poured into our hearts through the Gift of the Holy Spirit. We must act from a will that is completely ordered to God’s Will. Because when we so act, what we want to do can only be in accordance with God’ Will. For this is how Jesus taught His disciples to love, who only did what was the Will of His Father. And this is the key to remaining in the Love of God, to abide with Him: “If you keep my commandments”, Jesus says,” you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” Only in this way can the love, the joy of Our Lord be in us and become full.
Our Lady’s heart burst full with overwhelming joy when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and was poured into her heart. And she it was who bore in her womb the supreme fruit, for the fruit of her womb is Charity in Person, Jesus the Sons of God and the Son of Man, her Son. But she had conceived Him in her heart long before this for she was always “full of grace.” Her will could not be other than conformed to the Divine Will for she too, like her Son, always sought to do what was pleasing to the Father. “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.” This is certainly not like living in a straight jacket! It is the only way to experience true joy. “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”, wrote St James. This is the joy of the martyrs like St James, the ones who poured out their hearts for God in the fullest sense. Love one another as I have loved you. Or identically, with St Augustine, love and do what you want!
Dom Brian Gerard Kelly