6th Sunday of Easter B - Homily 1

Homily 1 - 2006

Masters can love their servants, as can servants love their masters. Jesus could well relate to us as master to servant – but the Gospel of John has Jesus saying that that is not the case: I do not call you servants .

Obviously, John’s community believed that Jesus offered something different, so much more. Jesus offers us a love that expresses itself in friendship, and not just merely being friendly, but the deepest intimacy, the mature love of equals: I have called you friends.

Yet, there seems to be some inconsistency. As the gospel would have it, Jesus goes on to say: You are my friends if you do what I command you. To be in a position to “command” is to presuppose an inequality, a superiority – precisely the master/servant alignment that Jesus denies. 

If Jesus is on about friendship and mature love, and, therefore, freedom, we need to look more deeply at what the gospel means when it talks of his “command”. What is it getting at? 

In this instance Jesus is quite specific: This is my commandment, that you love one another. He is not talking in generalities.

Could it be that outgoing love for people is so expressive of Jesus’ deepest understanding of himself, that not to see it or appreciate it, and not to have a go at it, would be to miss out entirely on how he sees himself – so much so that it would not be him we are relating to but our own mistaken, self-made image of him, that is completely off the mark?

In that case, the idea behind the word “command” is more precisely a firm insistence. Jesus wants us to focus on the deepest truth of himself, without which we are in fairyland. An epistle of John makes precisely this point in relation to God: Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. As with God, so with Jesus.

If we do not share Jesus’ insight into the sheer indispensability of loving, then whoever or whatever it is we think we are relating to is not Jesus as he is. Indeed, we miss out as well on what is definitive of our own truest self. And that distresses Jesus immensely because he loves us!

That is why the gospel is so insistent, so uncompromising. It wants to rescue us from the fantasies of our own projections and to get real. More pointedly, it wants to rescue us from the hell we otherwise make of our world when people hold back from love! So, although the word “command” can at first sight seem so unsatisfactory, it may be hard to find a better word.

The challenge is to live lovingly. Where do we begin? In the gospel passage, Jesus invites us to abide in his love, that is, to spend time with him, to hang around, to soak in his love, to sunbathe in it – and to let his love transform us: helping us to see, and to energise and empower us to change, to grow and to love maturely – as friends. Call it meditation or contemplation, wasting time together, prayer – whatever! But let’s do it!