by Fr. Tommy Lane
Jesus said to his apostles during the Last Supper “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34) There are different types of love but there is no confusion in the language of the New Testament. When Jesus speaks about love it is always a special type of love, unselfish love, loving the other for the other’s sake without anything in it for oneself. The New Testament writers used the word “agape” to describe this special type of love. There are other types of love in the New Testament; there is what we nowadays call friendship, and there is also selfish sensual love. Whenever Jesus uses the word “love” he only talks of agape, unselfish love, which is also the love God has for us.
We might ask what is new in this commandment of Jesus to love one another. The Old Testament asked to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). Perhaps we could say what is new is that we are to love as Jesus loved us, and we know how Jesus loved us, to the last drop of his blood on Calvary. Perhaps we could say Jesus’ commandment to love one another is new in the sense that unlike the Old Testament command which was to love only your neighbor, now everyone is our neighbor as Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). So loving our neighbor is without boundary now since Jesus. There is no such a thing as racism in Christianity; racism is contrary to Christ’s new commandment. Pope emeritus Benedict explained what is new in this commandment of Jesus in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (p64-65). It is new because to live this new commandment we have to immerse ourselves in Jesus, immerse ourselves in Jesus’ mercy. Why do we have to immerse our lives in Jesus to live this new commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? Because to love in this way as Jesus commands is impossible by mere human efforts; it takes a divine grace within us to love in this way. We can only love in this way with the grace of God. Loving in this new way is only possible in the New Covenant because we have the grace of Jesus in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, and we have the Holy Spirit since Baptism and Confirmation. We have Jesus with us to help us love in his way.
Of course there are difficult situations where it is very demanding to love our neighbor as ourselves and our neighbor may be a family member, someone who lives near us, or who works with us. These are a few little helps to love our neighbor. Remember Jesus died for that person; imagine that person beneath Jesus dying on the cross. Imagine that person as an infant in the arms of Jesus. Let go of your need for that person to ask forgiveness, forgive anyway even if they don’t apologize. When it is really challenging perhaps some therapy is necessary. Parishes offer marriage counseling as needed.
When we have to love and forgive after a difficult situation it is even clearer that Jesus’ commandment to love is a new one that we can live only with the grace of Jesus, with the grace of Jesus in the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation. We understand what Paul said in the first reading, that we have to endure many hardships before entering the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14:22). Books in Catholic bookstores have advice on how to forgive, and recover from painful memories. They can help us work through difficult stages in the process of forgiving e.g. moving from denial, to anger, to bargaining, to depression, to the final stage when we can see a grace as a result of the difficult situation that occurred. You owe it to yourself to allow the love of Jesus to heal you so that you can live a better life and be happy and not weighed down by the past. Then you will be free to love your neighbor as yourself as Jesus commands us in his new commandment today.
We receive the grace of the sacraments to help us love our neighbor as ourselves when a priest celebrates the sacraments for us. We need priests to give us the sacraments. That is why also in our first reading we hear of Paul appointing presbyters in every church he founded (Acts 14:23). Paul, a bishop, appoints presbyters i.e. priests in every church he founded. It is from the word “presbyter” that our English word priest comes. While Scripture doesn’t say explicitly when Paul was ordained a bishop he was ordained by one of the apostles or with the authority and permission of the apostles. We heard in that first reading that Paul “appointed” presbyters; the Greek of the New Testament says Paul stretched out his hands over these presbyters as he appointed them; it was the laying on of hands that we see now when a priest is ordained by a bishop. So Paul leaves presbyters i.e. priests in every church he founded so that people may receive the sacraments to give them the grace to love in this new way that Jesus asks.
It is only with the grace of God that we love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. It is only by living every day with Jesus that we can love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. Can we live our day in such a way that we are in communion with Jesus in some way all day? It is only by living our day with Jesus that we can love as he loved. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the heart of Jesus is at the center of the image of Easter. He was referring to Jesus inviting Thomas to put his fingers into the wounds in Jesus’ hands and to put his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side. That is Jesus inviting us to his Sacred Heart. It is only by living in the heart of Jesus that we can love as Jesus asked us. If not, we will be relying only on our human efforts, and we will love with some other type of love but not the agape love of Jesus.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34)
More homilies for the Fifth Sunday of Easter Year C
Related Homilies: Love of God for us 2009
on loving others Seeing Jesus in others