Sunday Sermon for May 9, 2021, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35; 44-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
In the Gospel reading today our Lord commands us to love one another. In Greek there four words for love, but only two are used in the New Testament: philos and agape. The first refers to the love of friendship and the second refers to the selfless manner in which God loves us. Some might think that because our Lord had just told His Apostles they were no longer slaves but friends, that He must be talking about philos love. On the contrary, the word that is used multiple times in this passage is agape.
If we go back to the beginning of the reading we see that our Lord tells us that as His Father loves Him, so He loves us. He goes on to say we must love as He loves us. Well, His love is perfect and selfless. As He pointed out, there is no greater love than for one to lay down one’s life for a friend. He showed us what absolute, selfless love looks like. So, when He says we are to love one another as He loves us, we have to look to the Cross to see this love in full display.
In telling us that He loves us as His Father loves Him, we must understand that this means He loves us perfectly, absolutely, 100%. In loving the Son, the Father gives Himself in an absolute manner; the Son loves the Father in the same way. Of course, they love the Holy Spirit perfectly as well and the Holy Spirit loves them perfectly in return. This perfect or absolute love unites the Three so they are One.
God is love, so He can only love, and He can only love perfectly. Therefore, when Jesus came to earth, His motivation was love and He loved us perfectly and absolutely at every moment. This perfect love was expressed most clearly on the Cross, but our Lord’s love for us was the same from the moment of His conception until the moment of His death. It should be clear that He continues to love us perfectly in eternity as well.
This is wonderful for us, but we must remember that a relationship of love must be reciprocal. In other words, we are called to love Him as He loves us. While we cannot love with an infinite love, we can love Him 100%, that is, with our whole heart and soul and strength. As difficult as this is for us, we can at least know of His love and strive to love Him in return. What is even more difficult is that He wants us to love others as He loves us. Not only does He want this from us, He has commanded it!
Before we can actually do this, we must open our hearts to receive His love. St. John makes this clear in the second reading when he says: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” We are made to love, but we must receive the love of God first before we can love anyone else. Having received His love, we will have experience of what it means to be loved perfectly, to be loved only for who we are and for no other reason. Once that love has been experienced, it should cause us to want to conform ourselves to that love we have received.
Only when we have come to know the love of God will we be able to love others as He loves us. We can think and speak about His love, but until His love is in our hearts, we will be unable to love others as we have been commanded to love by our Lord. Some will point out what I mentioned above: that in a relationship of love, the love must be reciprocal. We may think there is an out because there are many people who do not love us. How many people do not love God? He continues to love them, even when they do not love Him. It is true that in a relationship the love must be reciprocal, but we can still love others even if they refuse to enter into a loving relationship with us.
We have an example of this kind of charity in the first reading when St. Peter is willing to accompany the men who came to him, and then orders the people to be baptized, even though they were Gentiles. Peter knew our Lord’s love and loved these people as he had been loved. We must pray that we can open our hearts to receive God’s love, then, once we have experienced and received God’s love, we must love others as we are loved.
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.