5th Sunday in Easter
Gospel of John 13: 31-33A; 34-35 NAB
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
As consumers we regularly hear the pitch “new and improved” for every product from toothpaste to vehicles. Oftentimes we consider this prospective as something positive. Every time Apple comes out with a new iPhone my kids work to convince me of its superiority over the one I already own. However, although new cars, new appliances, or new clothes can seem appealing, learning a new technology seems more work than it’s worth unless the benefits are considerable. This attitude spills over into my spiritual life as well. I appreciate when God simply keeps things running smoothly as they are. When offered something new, though it sounds exciting, it also sounds like a lot of work. “New” has the allure of surprise and opportunity, but it also has the anxiety of unfamiliarity, making mistakes during the learning process, discomfort of discerning how to act in new situations, and the fear of the unknown. Today’s Gospel recounts the inauguration of the “New” Covenant. A savvy consumer would ask “how is it new” and “is it worth the price”?
During the Last Supper, Christ’s Passion began with Judas’ betrayal. Once Judas left to execute his plans, Jesus spoke to the other disciples about the New Covenant being inaugurated that night. A covenant refers to a solemn agreement between God and man, usually sealed in the blood of a sacrifice. God had made these types of agreements in the past through Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. His New Covenant however, on the night the Jews celebrated the Passover, was mediated through His Son, Who would also be the sacrificial lamb and Whose blood would bind us to the Father. Moreover, whereas God’s covenant with Abraham extended to Abraham’s family, the covenant with Moses extended to a nation, and the covenant with David extended to a kingdom, the New Covenant extended to all of humanity.
A marketing executive might take issue with Christ’s assertion that He gives a “new” commandment however when He instructed us to love one another. Jews treasured a passage in Deuteronomy as the heart of the Old Covenant. It’s called the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Jesus Himself referenced it in His teaching:
|And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:28–30|
Jesus’ “new” commandment sounds very similar – to love. Is this false advertising? The difference may seem slight on the surface but upon closer investigation it transcends the old model to a remarkable degree. Jesus did not eliminate the old, but he did present a new and improved model. In the new version Christ added the stipulation, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Christ set a new standard for love of God and neighbor – humble service marked by suffering and sacrifice. Put that on a billboard. Any buyers?
A faith that’s merely a get rich quick scheme – prosperity, reward, and status at no cost – is not the Gospel. Consider Jesus’ difficult teachings about discipleship:
|Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24|
The early Church verified this teaching by their lives and their instructions:
|“[Paul and Barnabas] strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22|
Why does it have to be so hard? Human nature. As much as we idolize change in our culture, in practice we avoid it. Change as simple as healthy living often gets abandoned because of the sacrifice and discomfort one experiences in the beginning. Those who have made the change can attest that they feel more energetic, happier, and it would be painful to go back to their bad habits. However one can only experience this feeling if one perseveres through the initial pain of re-habituating one’s body and one’s lifestyle. Similarly, to love as Christ loved will feel uncomfortable and painful in the beginning. It means re-habituating one’s whole lifestyle – the measuring standard must be readjusted, and priorities re-evaluated. Many give up after a short while. However, those who persevere can attest that this new lifestyle makes one feel deeper joy, peace, and energy than before and it would be painful to return to their former habits.
At present, human free will presents a tension between sin and grace, which means we suffer – both interiorly as we wrestle between love of self and love of God, and exteriorly as we suffer from the sinful choices of ourselves and others.
Christ’s Paschal Mystery offers hope in that it did not end on the Cross but rather at the Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. Eventually, our conversion will be complete, and we will have interior peace. At some point this world will come to an end and those who choose love will spend eternity together with each other and with God.
Oftentimes I just want God to restore things to how they used to be, much like the Jews, who expected God would save them by restoring Israel to its former glory as a kingdom under David’s reign. God’s love exceeds our imagination though, and most of the time His answer is not to go back, but to offer something new and improved. St. John recounts in the book of Revelation:
|Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away…I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (see Revelation 21:1-5)|
We can be confident that the time, discomfort, and sacrifice for this upgrade will be worth the effort, and Christ will be there to help. It will be new, surprising, beyond imagining, and exceed all expectations.
- Recall a time when you kicked a bad habit or developed a healthy habit. How long did it take? How did it feel afterward?
- What healthy spiritual habits have you developed? Consider the work it took to establish them and the fruits you enjoy as a result.
- What spiritual habits do you need to develop? How might you begin work on one today?
- Consider what it means to love as Christ loved. In each circumstance below, can you think of a time that you either extended that kind of love to another or received that kind of love from someone else?
- Humble service
- Suffering for someone’s good
- Rejoicing at elevating someone else
- Forgiveness and mercy, even toward an enemy
- Patience and kindness toward someone who aggravates you
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Exchange a bad spiritual habit for a good spiritual habit. Make a plan: decide which habit to address and how to develop it. When, where, and how will you achieve it? Remember to pray for grace as you do! Transformation can only take place by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Opportunities to love as Christ loved are present every day in family life.
- Intentionally practice Christ-like love toward family members today.
- Spend some time each day reading a little bit of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortationThe Joy of Love, especially the chapters pertaining to family life.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019
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