Fifth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 14: 21-27
After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Second Reading: Revelations: 21: 1-5
Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
The One who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
Gospel: John 13: 31-33, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. 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.”
In this passage, Jesus, just before His crucifixion, adds what we might call the Eleventh Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
This is interesting: is this a new commandment? Didn’t Jesus earlier describe the two greatest commandments as “Love God and Love your Neighbor”?
Well, yes and no. Yes, because loving our neighbor is more or less synonymous with “love one another.” The difference here, though, is one of kind and degree. In the earlier commandments, we are told “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is putting a stronger and more defined emphasis on this: love one another as I have loved you. In other words, “whatever I have done for you, you must do for each other.”
This is His new commandment. I’ll have to double check, but I believe this is the only time Jesus calls one of His commands a commandment. The term infuses the command with a special power; a commandment is a core law. The Ten Commandments served as the basis for all moral and legal concerns in the Jewish community (and the Christian and…well, pretty much every subsequent community until very recently), and the two “Great Commandments” served as the basis for the Ten. Jesus is thus adding a new element to the foundation of His disciples’ religious and communal life, one that encompasses all the others: “do for each other what I have done for you.”
Now, not only does He present this as a new commandment (incidentally fulfilling His role as the new Moses), but He describes this as the sign and definition of His disciples: “If you are my disciples,” He’s saying. “You will love one another as I have loved you. That is what it means to be my disciple.”
So, the thing we need to do in this Easter season is to ask ourselves: are we Christ’s disciples? Do we fit this definition of loving one another as He loves us? I don’t know about you, but in my case the answer is a very definite “no” (if you said “yes” than you’re either a true Saint or you’re in need of a serious reality check).
But there’s hope for us, for in this war, as St. Francis de Sales said, “we are assured of victory if we only will fight.” The thing to do here is to remind ourselves everyday what Jesus has done for us and to look for opportunities to imitate Him. The world desperately needs an example of Christ-like love, and it’s our job to give it to them.
Vive Christus Rex!