Apr 23, 2016

5th Sunday of Easter: "Love God and do what you want"

"I give you a new commandment"

St. Augustine was likely the most influential theologian/philosopher of the early centuries of the Church.  His early pagan hedonistic life was profoundly turned around through his eventual conversion to Christianity.  So his famous quote: “Love God and do what you want” may raise a few eyebrows in some confusion.  What exactly is Augustine referring to when he says: “Do what you want?” The first part of the statement about love for God is clear but “do what you want” sounds like permission to live a double lifestyle?  Not at all.

This Sunday in our Easter journey our Gospel from John 13 takes us back to a moment with the Apostles at the Last Supper.  Judas has just left the upper room to carry out his destiny.  We can only imagine the disciples sitting there in some confusion about why he left – or so the Gospels imply such.  Jesus had spoken of betrayal and clearly none of them, except Judas, could imagine what Jesus meant – betray? How could they? 

Nonetheless, Judas appeared to do what he wanted; to cooperate with the power of darkness and become the legendary betrayer.  There was no love for God behind his motive and at the very best, a now warped sense of loyalty to Jesus. Although Jesus well knew his fateful future, he speaks of glory.  The “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in him.”  This was the moment of decision when Jesus embraced the fullness of his mission for humankind and submitted himself to the cross which has brought “glory” to Jesus and through him to all humanity through the resurrection.

So, it is the end of Jesus ’earthly life that brings everything he said and did to his ultimate meaning – that of love lived out.  A love lived out in self-sacrifice and in relationship with his Father, which motivated Jesus constantly to carry forward with his mission.  His will was conformed to that of his Father because of the love he had.  So Jesus did what he wanted, which had become his Father’s will to pour out his love as savior and bring hope to a humanity lost in darkness of sin. That love in action is what Jesus wants for his disciples: “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.”

The distinctive mark of the ideal Christian community is that we become so noticed that others are attracted and inspired by how we live and pray together. What we want to do is to carry out our Christian mission to love one another. Jesus’ own wish is that we give witness to his life by imitating his way of love as he has loved us. It is not a love based in feelings and emotions but a love that is concrete and lived out through acts of mercy and forgiveness and welcome.  To see this kind of love in community life such as marriage and family and visibly expressed in parish life is our ideal.  

As Paul moved from ancient city to ancient city, as we hear in the first reading from Acts 14, he found himself confronted with the diverse cultural prejudices, philosophies, gods and goddesses, with Greek speaking and Hebrew speaking peoples of Jew and Gentile.  Paul brought this “new” Gospel of Jesus – the new command of love into these communities.  With the faith of Christ himself, crucified and risen, Paul and his band of other Missionaries such as Barnabas, rooted these ancient peoples in the power of the Spirit as the Gentile world began to explode with this new vision of God and new way of relating to our fellow men and women. 

What brought this diversity into one Body of Christ, Church, was the universal call to love.  How that was most beautifully expressed was in their gathering for Word and Sacrament.  When they broke bread together, with faith in Christ’s own presence among them, they saw who they were and had become. As they grew in love for God they did what they wanted, which was to carry out his mission in the world. 

The challenge, as always, is to live that out in visible ways.  It was the power of their witness to Christ by their love for one another that inspired others.  The same is true today, perhaps even more, as we face the challenges of our own day and culture.  The indifference towards religion, the materialism, the lack of attention towards God, the hostility for mention of religion in public life and on and on. 

Jesus has given us a new commandment; a new way of seeing God and one another.  We have power to transform our lives and those around us.

Love God and do what (he) wants.  

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal. 

(Roman Missal: Collect of Mass)