Apr 26, 2013

5th Sunday of Easter: Are we like Christ?

"Love one another as I have loved you . . ."

Acts 14: 21-27
Rev 21: 1-5a
Jn 13: 31-33a, 34-35

Mahatma Ghandi, 20th century leader of India’s independence movement, was a man well aware of world religions.  Educated in Europe, he was anything but na├»ve.  Although he wasn’t a Christian, he had many opportunities to study the Christian faith and get to know many Christians.  Later in his life he once commented: “I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It’s quite a statement and obviously begs the question of Ghandi, “How are we unlike Christ?” which leaves the door open to many explanations.  One thing is clear, though, Ghandi’s experience of those who professed faith in Jesus Christ often fell short of the high ideals that Christ called for.  We could easily object that we know many good Christians who are indeed Christ-like in their lifestyle. Yet, there is no doubt that all too often we may see a Christianity that is more often mediocre rather than inspirational.  Or behavior that appears more judgmental than accepting. As the famed Christian author once wrote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” More than a pithy saying, Chesterton is right.  And perhaps the greatest challenge to any of us is to love as Jesus loved.

Our Gospel this 5th Easter Sunday takes us back to the night of the Last Supper.  Why would we be going back to Holy Thursday after we’ve celebrated more than a month of Easter glory? Well, it’s the moment of the Eucharist, Judas has left the building, and Jesus remains seated with his Apostles.  Not only did he institute the Eucharist as a perpetual memorial of his body and blood but now he establishes the deeper meaning of the new covenant about to be established through his death and resurrection. 

Nothing Jesus did or said was ever an isolated fact.  His preaching, healing, his actions all had a connection that ultimately lead to the cross.  So too the Eucharist remains his risen presence among us and now in the Easter season we are reminded of how we must be more Christ like: “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.”  (Jn 13: 34-35). Maybe the observation of Ghandi would have been more complimentary if he noticed Christians behaving more like Jesus Christ. However, we may wonder if Ghandi's observation is a bit narrow?

The love Jesus refers to is obviously not what we may hear in the latest romance novel.  Our Lord states: “As I have loved you . . .” Is this “Jesus love” easy?  If it was the cross and resurrection would be unnecessary.  As Chesterton stated, “it has been found difficult.”  But not impossible. Paul and Barnabas were amazed and joy-filled over what the Spirit of God was doing through the Gentiles in the first years of the Christian faith.  They well knew that it was difficult but not impossible: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God . . .” (Acts 14: 22).   

How willing am I to embrace the fullness of the Catholic/Christian faith and not be satisfied with “Catholic lite" - a more watered down version of the Catholic faith; only what I agree with or what doesn't really challenge me to grow but keeps me in my comfort zone or is really just luke-warm Catholicism?  What might Ghandi say about you?

Jesus speaks of a new commandment - to love one another as he has loved us. In the context of the institution of the Eucharist he says this, thereby connecting the shedding of his own body and blood, the next day, to this new perpetual remembrance of that event. It begs us to enter the mystery of what God has done.

At that same dinner, he washed the feet of his disciples to give them a further example.  Then they witnessed his own arrest, the sacrifice of his own life upon the agony of the cross, and then the breaking of bread in his risen presence along the road to Emmaus, the forming of a community of faith around his presence. What more could Jesus had done to cement forever the meaning of his "love as I have loved" command? 

Our Catholic faith centers itself around the Eucharistic sacrifice.  It calls all of us to the higher moral ideals that Jesus has set for us.  We know where we must stand on certain issues that have become hot button one's in todays culture. Ghandi's observation may challenge us to look within ourselves and see a new way of relating to our brothers and sisters.  Not just those of our faith but to all we meet.  

Easy - no.  Impossible - no.  Transforming - yes.