6th Sunday of Easter B

See Commentary on John 15:9-17 in John 15:1-17 

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!

Homily 2 - 2009

When all is said and done, Jesus' message is essentially quite uncomplicated. It all starts with God: God loves Jesus. And God loves Jesus because that is what God is like: God loves, God is love.

Now, love is not inert. Love is power. Love empowers. Love energises the one loved. Love is creative (the only truly creative power there is). Love gives life.

The God who is love, who loves Jesus, transforms Jesus into love and empowers Jesus, in his turn, to love others. As today's Gospel put it: As the Father loved me, so I have loved you. So, it all starts with God.

Jesus then went on to say to us: Remain in my love ... and then he said it again.

Just as he remains in his Father's love - as he accepts it, believes it, trusts it, lets himself be saturated in it, and is empowered and energised by it, so, in similar vein, he invites us to believe his love, to accept it, to trust it, to sun-bake in it - until we become saturated in it, and transformed by it, and become ourselves people who love.

We come to see that loving defines who we truly are. We are truly ourselves only when we choose to love; we are truly human only when we choose to love.

But because we are slow learners, (or, rather, because we have been messed up by being born into, and growing up in, the kind of world we live in, he makes it clear that that is what we are about by telling us that, if we want to live life to the full, we need to love. That is simply non-negotiable. And to help us to understand that it is non-negotiable, he said that that is his commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

But then he says it's not commandment (at least not what we usually understand as commandment - a kind of order imposed on us, from outside, by a superior officer). He insists that we are not servants, and are not to see ourselves as servants - we are not to do something simply because someone else orders us.

He says we're friends of his - friends whom he trusts so much that he has shared with us what is most precious to him: He has told us everything he has learnt form his Father, that is, the non-negotiability of loving.

He wants us to love so that we can be truly human, so that we can come alive. In fact, he said that his reason for sharing all this with us is so that his joy maybe in us and our joy be complete. But, because love has to be free, or it's not love, then, for us to accept what he calls his commandment as a servant would, would be to miss the whole point.

Just in case it all sounds a bit remote, a bit like an assembly-line process, he assures us that each of us is unique and special: We did not choose him, no, he chose us ... It's all a bit mind-blowing!

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”.