The Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2019
Human relationships can be very difficult and demand a lot from us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the issue of relationships when he introduces his disciples to the kind of love that must be the hallmark of all who bear the name Christian. “I give you a new commandment,” he says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Levine and Brettler observe that “the commandment is not ‘new’ in the sense of original: Lev 19:18,34 enjoins love of one’s fellow and of the stranger…Instead, it is part of the new life to which the disciples are invited,” and in the context of this Gospel the focus is specifically on the love among the believers (Levine and Brettler, 206). Other scholars hold the view that the commandment is “new” because it is grounded specifically in the self-offering of Jesus (Brown et al, 974). In this season of Easter, when we recall the work of the apostles and the establishment of the first ekklesia, it is entirely appropriate that our Gospel passage invites us reflect on the quality of love that exists within our communities of faith today. How well do we love the people with whom we sit on the parish council? The difficult parent of the child in our First Communion class? What about that leader who hurt us badly at the last meeting, and so on? How well do we love the relatives and friends with whom we share a common faith? Indeed, we must attend to our own communities of faith first before we could even begin to think about evangelizing others. Graciousness, charity and love begin at home.
How can the kind of love to which Jesus calls us be accomplished in this life? One answer can be found by understanding the performance of a commandment as “a deed in which humans are given an opportunity to fulfill the will of God” (Green, 98). “The mitzvot,” Green points out, “are instruments through which we dedicate our lives to God” (Green, 99). According to mystical tradition, the word mitzvah can be linked to the Aramaic be-tsavta or “together” so that the “mitzvah is the event in which God and the human soul are joined to one another” (Green, 99). We open ourselves to this profound and deeply satisfying embrace when we make the observance of the “love commandment” the centre of our spirituality.
The quality of love Jesus exemplified was characterized by service and self-offering. As Christians of the twenty-first century, one concrete area in which we could observe the commandment to love is through the practice of hospitality within our own communities of faith. It is a virtue we must cultivate daily and not put on display only when there are strangers in our midst. The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus are notable for the gracious hospitality Jesus extended to his disciples on each occasion. Carol Ochs points out that, “We don’t usually recognize the role that our own contribution plays in creating the lovability of the people we love…The effort we make to be open to another person’s reality is part of what leads us to love” (Ochs, 57). This effort to be open can be fostered by the practice of hospitality. Today’s Gospel commands us to love, not in the usual sense of universal goodwill toward all, but rather with a focus on the particular individuals whom God has placed into our lives through our communities. These relationships are not easy. In fact, they are possible only in God. May the grace to continue loving be one of your gifts this Easter.
For Reflection and Discussion: In what concrete ways does this Gospel challenge you in this Easter season?
Bibliography: Brown, Fitzmyer and Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (New Jersey, 1990); Green, These Are The Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life (Vermont, 1999); Levine and Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York, 2017); Ochs, Our Lives As Torah (San Francisco, 2001).
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