Sunday Sermon for April 25, 2021, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 4:8-12; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
Near the end of the Gospel reading today we see two statements that, on the surface, might make us raise our eyebrows. First, Jesus says: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…” After speaking about laying down His life and taking it up again, our Lord says: “This command I have received from my Father.” So, God loves Jesus because He lays down His life? The Father commanded Jesus to lay down His life?
Regarding the second point, St. Paul tells the Philippians that Jesus was obedient, even to death on the Cross. So, yes, God the Father commanded His Son to lay down His life. Of course, in the Trinity, there is only one mind and one will, so it is not like the Son was being asked to do something He did not want to do. However, Jesus did take a human nature which struggled with the suffering of the Passion, as we see in the Garden of Gethsemane. Nonetheless, our Lord chose to do the will of His Father and accept the Cross for our salvation.
But, we still might wonder, why would the Father command His Son to do such a thing? We can look at this from at least two perspectives. First, God had revealed through the Prophets that the Messiah would suffer and die. Even in the vision of the heavenly worship shown to Moses, there was the sacrifice of a Lamb. This is what Moses and the Jewish people were to imitate. We know that Lamb is Jesus and is revealed clearly in the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation. If the worship of Heaven involves the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, then it had to be fulfilled exactly as it had been prophesied.
A second way of considering the Father’s command is in light of the first statement we highlighted: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…” If we misunderstand this, it would sound like Jesus has to earn His Father’s love or that His Father would not love Him if He did not first lay down His life. Obviously, this is not true. God is love and the three Persons of the Trinity love one another perfectly from all eternity, so the Father loves the Son; He always has and always will. So, how are we to understand this?
I suggest this can be understood only in light of our Lord’s commands to us. First, love God and love neighbor. Second, our Lord commanded His Apostles to “love one another as I love you.” Third, we can see it in light of the statements of our Lord when He says if we love Him, we are to keep his commandment. As we saw in the previous sentences, His command is to love.
All this means that the command of God is to love. The Father loves the Son because the Son loves God and neighbor. Since, as our Lord told us, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, He shows us perfect love which is absolutely selfless and completely focused on the beloved. So, the Father loves His Son, because His Son is love. The Father loves us because we are made for love. The Son takes on our human nature out of pure love so He can show us how to love God with our whole heart, and soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as our self.
So, to say the Father loves the Son because the Son lays down His life simply means the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. In laying down His life, Jesus loves perfectly and absolutely, which is exactly the way the Father loves (and the Holy Spirit, too, of course). There is, however, another side to this that must be considered. The Son loved the Father in going to the Cross, but He also loved us in the same act. If the Father loves the Son because of the love of the Son in His sacrifice, then the same must be said of us. Jesus loves us from the Cross; we are to receive that love and love Him in return.
St. Peter, in the first reading reminds us that there is no salvation in anyone other than Jesus and there is no other name given to us by which we will be saved. This is true, but we could keep it at an arm’s distance. So, in the second reading St. John tells us we have become children of God. We are redeemed, saved, and made children of God so that we can love as Jesus has loved us, by laying down His life.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.