6th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2015
1 John 4: 7-10
Iona College, New Rochelle
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God” (1 John 4: 7).
Our 2d and 3d readings this evening come from St. John, and they emphasize love. This love isn’t Hollywood romance, the sentimentalism of pop culture, or the eroticism so common in the mass media these days. Jesus teaches and John preaches something else entirely.
1st, this love is self-sacrificing, not self-seeking. “God’s love was revealed” by his “sending his Son into the world so that we might have life thru him” (4:9). God went out of his way, so to speak, to reach down to us—sinners—to lift us up to his own life.
This self-abasement of the Son of God, lowering himself to our state, was costly. He became “expiation for our sins” (4:10). Became the sacrifice that atones for our evildoing, our malice. He laid down his life for us (cf. John 15: 13).
|Crucifix in the chapel|
of Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey, N.J.
We don’t fully understand the doctrine of the atonement—why Christ had to die, how his death erased our sins and their punishment. I think of it as an act of solidarity: Christ loves us so much that he became all that we are and underwent all the injustice and sufferings that we do, so as to absorb human nature and the human condition fully into his Divine Person, and by conquering death to carry humanity along with him, “so that we might have life thru him.” “Greater love than this no one has” (15:13).
2d, the love that God reveals to us in Jesus takes initiative. God doesn’t love us in response to our love for him: “not that we have loved God, but that he loved us” (4:10), loved us even when we were alienated from him by our sins. The parable of the prodigal son is the image to call to mind, the image of that father ever loving his lost son, even when he was far away and thinking only of himself, and then eagerly, enthusiastically, welcoming him when he decided to come home. When we truly love someone—God or another human being—our love doesn’t depend on that person’s response to us. We call it unconditional love. You who are parents, think of the love you had for your newborn, who—obviously—wasn’t capable of showing you any love in response to all the love that your poured out upon him or her; and the love you kept for your teenagers when, maybe, they were anything but positive about you, your ideas, your tastes, and your rules.
|Return of the Prodigal (Rembrandt)|
3d, a disciple who loves Jesus seeks to please him. He commands us to keep his commandments (15:10), above all the commandment to “love one another” as he has loved us (15:12). He calls us his friends, not his slaves (15:15), and friends are eager to please each other, to help each other, to do things for each other; in St. Paul’s words, to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (15:14). Love after the example of Jesus is other-focused; we focus it on him, not on ourselves, the way that most mothers focus on their children, not themselves. What will make Jesus happy? That we keep God’s commandments, respecting and honoring his Father, respecting and honoring all God’s children, accepting his friendship, wanting to be part of his company of friends.
God’s commandments aren’t meant to be hassles, even if sometimes they challenge us. Keeping them, in the long run, gives us satisfaction and fulfillment. Jesus calls it joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete” (15:11). Someone who’s greedy or envious or angry or lustful—those are 4 of the 7 deadly sins, you notice—is never satisfied, never content—never joyful. Someone who lives virtuously, lives to please God, practices the commandments and the beatitudes, is always at peace, in harmony with God, humanity, and the universe; has one foot in heaven, you might say; and that person’s joy will be completed in the resurrection. He or she already has God’s life, and will come to the fullness of life in eternal union with Jesus, who makes us his friends.