Sometimes scripture overwhelms me. It overwhelms me, not because of its demands but because the demands seem overwhelming in the context in which I must live it. If there were no people except the ones we get along with, Christianity would be so easy. In today’s gospel reading Jesus says to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). In the very contentious times in which we live, Jesus’ “new commandment” seem unrealistic.
I spent some time reflecting on Jesus’ love commandment. I realized that I could let myself be overwhelmed or refuse to let discouragement and despair make the gospel demand superfluous. The choice is mine to make as a disciple. Here are my three points for today.
As we reflect on Jesus’ love commandment, we are compelled to think about Jesus’ own life and context. Whereas the context today might overwhelm us, Jesus had his own reasons to be overwhelmed. The love commandment was given at the Last Supper. By this time in his life, besides the personal struggles he faced, the religious and political establishment were at odds with him. He was being threatened and his life was in danger. At the table of the Last Supper sat the one who would betray him. At the same table with him sat the one who would deny him. The lives of his disciples and his entire ministry stood the risk of being destroyed. Jesus gave the love commandment in the most vulnerable moment of his life. In this context, Jesus placed before his disciples the one thing that is most basic to Christian discipleship – love. Jesus does not leave any room for ambiguity. He said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” In other words, the context, the realities of the world, and our lives do not absolve us from the love commandment.
The implication is simple. There is no time when it is consistent with our faith to set aside the love commandment. In fact, Jesus says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Christianity without love is not Christianity.
A New Heaven and A New Earth
In today’s second reading John describes his vision of a “new heaven and a new earth”. I want to cling to the idea of newness in this reading. You’ve heard the saying, “Same old, same old!” It is so easy to succumb to the “same old, same old.”
Jesus’ world was a difficult world, and our world is not any easier. But Jesus refused to give into the “same old, same old” perspective on life. Instead, he introduced something totally new. “A new commandment I give you. Love one another!” Right here is the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth. Moreover, Jesus makes us integral to realization of the new heaven and a new earth by giving us a new commandment.
Our world is not the easiest one to live in and the gospel demand is not the easiest one to practice. Either we can give into the “same old, same old,” or join hands with Jesus in the realization of a new heaven and a new earth. This week, if you encounter hate, don’t give into the “same old, same old”. Rather, join Jesus in realizing a new earth. If you face opposition, negativity, divisiveness, betrayal, don’t succumb to the “same old, same old”. Rather join hands with Jesus in making all things new.
“It Made a Difference to That One”
Last Tuesday, I tweeted a message in a totally unrelated context. I was talking about recent global events and how the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have made basic necessities of life unaffordable to people, especially the poor. I said that even though I cannot make a big difference, I am committed to help the one or few people that I can. One of the comments to my tweet reminded me of the well-known story of a child on the seashore who was picking up starfish along the beach and returning them into the ocean so that they wouldn’t die. Seeing this, a adult walking along the beach told the child that he was making no difference because there were so many of them. The child picked up a starfish and threw it into the ocean, saying, “It made a difference to that one!”
The demands of the world and the demands of the gospel may overwhelm us. Today, as we hear Jesus’ command, we could be like that adult on the beach who feels that we can do nothing or make no difference. Or we can be like that little child. Instead of getting discouraged and overwhelmed we can make the little difference we can. Don’t try to change the world. Don’t try to make all the difference. This week, just love a little more and make a little difference. This week forgive just a little more and make a little difference. This week help someone a little more and make a little difference. This week instead of joining a contentious conversation, inject a little peace. This week, make just one difference. If we all do that, that will be a lot more love. If we all make a little difference. That can make all the difference.
Let me conclude this homily with Jesus’ words. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
Image: Adobe Stock. By Arjen.
Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.