SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
We Love God by Loving All People
First Reading ( Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48
: The Holy Spirit comes to the Gentiles
“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4:7-8 )
“Whoever” loves others means that all those who love others, or each person who loves others, no matter their gender, class, nationality or religion, are born of God, come from God and belong to God.
It is said that when St. John the Apostle had grown old he no longer had the energy to give long homilies. He would only say over and over, 'My little children, love one another!' and 'If you can love one another, that is enough.' Hearing the same thing all the time, his disciples grew bored and asked him why he repeated the same words so often. He answered, “All of Jesus' preaching can be summarized in the one word, 'Love!'”
Actually in his farewell address, Jesus said the same words to his disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:12-14 )
What Jesus said was true, to love one another is the whole of the commandments. That is why Paul said, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ( Gal 5:14 )
We Catholics easily understand that we must love God, even to loving God 'above all things.' In fact our entire religion is about using all our efforts to learn how to love God. That is entirely correct. But if we read Jesus' words carefully, we easily discover that Jesus' concern was not whether we could love him or not, but whether or not we could love one another. It is like a mother or father with a terminal illness, his or her greatest concern is not whether the children would continue to love and revere their parents but whether the children would love each other.
So if Jesus were us, he might say, 'As I have loved all of you, you also must love me.' Certainly Jesus could say that, because he is fully worthy of our reciprocal heartfelt love. But he never asked us to love him, he only asked us to love one another! Nowadays we often say we love God, but our Lord only wants us to love one another. Is it not true that our Lord's heart is so much greater than our own?
Actually 'to love God' is easier than to love other people. What can we do to love God? Would it be to pray fervently, or go to church regularly? But to love others is not so simple. Especially if we must love a person who is really unlovable or one whom we dislike - then it becomes even more difficult.
There is a Chinese story about drawing ghosts. Someone asked an artist what was easier to draw. He answered, “Drawing ghosts is easy; drawing a horse or dog is difficult” (1) The reason is that no one has ever seen a ghost, so no matter what you draw no one is qualified to criticize you. But to draw a dog or horse is different. If what you draw does not resemble the dog or horse people have seen, they will say that you do not draw very well. Therefore the artist said, “Drawing ghosts is easy; drawing a horse or dog is difficult.” (1)
If loving God refers only to some external religious practices, that certainly is not difficult. But if it means we must love one another, get along with people who really are not easy to get along with, that can be very difficult.
In speaking of the special characteristics of Christian love, today's Gospel goes a step further. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” ( Jn 15:9 ) Christian love has a source, a basis, a focal point, and also a heritage. God the Father loves the Son, God the Son loves us, and within that love of the Father and Son we love one another. That is our heritage; moreover, we must imitate Jesus' example, and love according to his criterion, “Love one another as I have loved you”
We are not only to love others, we must be like Jesus in our love for one another. The love of the Father and Jesus points out the direction and raises the quality and level of our love. God's love gives us the direction because whether we like it or not, and under whatever circumstances, we must love, make every effort to love, learn how to love. That is the command God has given us.
God's love raises the quality of our love because we must love according to God's criterion: totally and unconditionally. It is because Jesus loves us, not because we are worthy of love for when we were still sinners he loved us, but because he loved us even to dying on the cross: “No one has greater love than this”
That is the love we must have, that is the standard of Christian love. In loving our neighbor we must love God, and in loving God love all of humankind, with a love that is all-embracing and sincere.