6th Sunday of Easter B - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2018

It was a toss-up in my mind which of the readings to talk about today – because I want to talk about all three of them! Eventually I settled for the Gospel, though the Second Reading came a close second.

Why the Gospel? Let’s explore. Remember that we are dealing with John’s Gospel, which consistently expects the reader to check out the words it uses and the claims it makes against the background of our personal lived experience.

Today’s passage began with Jesus telling his disciples that he loved them – and he meant it. He then invited them, “Remain in my love”. The word ‘remain’ often turns up in the Gospel of John - right from the first chapter, where it occurred twice and where each time the translator translated it differently. John the Baptist had just pointed out Jesus to two of his own disciples who immediately followed Jesus. In answer to Jesus’ question, “What [or who] are you seeking?”, they asked, “Where do you live?” [literally, where do you remain]. Anyhow, they went and saw, and we are told that they stayed with him the rest of the afternoon [literally they remained with him]. When Jesus invites us to remain in his love, what is he really suggesting? What do you think? Try it out! It is the only way really to find out. “Remain in my love.” Jesus says that he remains, too, in his Father’s love. What might that be like? Use your imagination.

Jesus then added, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” Then he sort of corrected himself, mentioning that he had only one commandment, “Love one another”. That word ‘commandment’ sits uneasily with me. We are talking about lovers deeply in love with each other – Jesus and his Father, Jesus and disciples. Do lovers command each other? Is not love, deep love, all about freedom? Can it be commanded, and still be love? The same can be asked about laying down conditions. Elsewhere Jesus makes it abundantly clear that God’s love is totally unconditional.

Might the problem lie in the word translated as “commandment”? I think it does, but there seems to be no better single-word alternative. We need a whole paragraph. When persons deeply love each other, they come to recognize what the other values, what is precious to the other. Over time they come to respect those values. What is important to the one, particularly when it seems to sum up and express their very essence, becomes important, and is felt even as imperative, to the other. "Keep my commandments" becomes [almost] "Touch into who I am."

In Jesus’ case, through remaining in the Father’s love, what is important to the Father, what seems to sum up the essence of the Father, becomes important to Jesus. Today’s Second Reading contained the observation, “God is love”. So loving sums up and expresses the very essence of God. By “remaining in” God who is love, no wonder that loving thereby becomes important to Jesus, and that it feels to him as if the Father had commanded it.

The process continues with us who love Jesus and are learning to “remain in his love”. What is natural, what is important and non-negotiable to Jesus, namely that we “love one another”, comes to be felt by us to be as vital and as imperative as if Jesus had commanded it. Our loving one another is the overflow of our remaining in him and becoming saturated in his love. We come to want it. Rather than being felt as burden, we experience his wish, as he himself put it, “that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete”.

There is quite a lot in that little invitation Jesus makes to us, “Remain in my love”.