We recall Jesus’ answer to the scribe who asked, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” In short, Jesus said, love God above all else and your neighbor as yourself. In today’s Gospel, he elaborates on the way of love, giving us a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus invites us to go beyond self-love, beyond loving others as we love ourselves, to loving others as he loves us. This is the invitation to sacrificial love.
To set the scene: Judas has just left the Last Supper to betray Jesus to the Pharisees. The divine plan for our redemption is about to be played out: Jesus, the Lamb of God, is willingly going to lay down his life for us. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus is about to empty himself, make a total gift of himself, and he invites his disciples to do the same. His perfect obedience to his Father’s will glorifies God the Father and Jesus himself, the Son of Man. God is glorified by loving sacrifice, the total gift of oneself for the good of the other. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
We glorify God in loving as he loves. But practically, how do we, fallen, wounded, sinful people do that? How do we love people we don’t particularly like, let alone those who have mistreated, maligned and even abused us? The answer, of course, is that of ourselves it is impossible. Only God can love totally. But by his grace, he makes love possible for us. He leads us out of self-love to be channels of his love and mercy for others. He is present with us and in us, and wants to work through us. When we lack faith, we allow our doubts and fears to become obstacles to his divine will to bring all his children into his Kingdom. So he is continually offering us grace to strengthen our faith. The greatest model of faith is Mary our Mother, who intercedes for us and teaches us how to be humble, little, less self-centered, totally dependent on the Lord.
In today’s first reading, we find two Apostles who live by this kind of faith, totally abandoned to the will of God. Paul and Barnabas, inspired by the Holy Spirit, preach the Gospel in many towns and cities and make a considerable number of disciples. They give glory to God by loving others with the love they have received. The work of evangelization, bringing souls to Christ, requires that someone preach the word. But Paul and Barnabas know that there are many other things required, such as perseverance in faith, prayer and fasting, and the experience of “many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” As these two missionaries live out their vocation, they encourage all their disciples to do the same.
We learn from mature Christians that the life of faith is not all suffering or all success; it is both, and the trials are an inseparable part of a fruitful life. In some of Paul’s writings, he enumerates an overwhelming list of physical and emotional trials (cf. 1 Cor 6). But he is full of joy when he and Barnabas call the Church together and report the great work God has done with them. They stand as joyful witnesses of how the Lord “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” When a woman beholds the child she has delivered, she is no longer concerned about her arduous labor (cf. Jn 16:21). So it is with the Apostles and with each of us. We will suffer in our efforts to live and spread the Gospel, but we rejoice to be called to share the glory of God. We are privileged to be a tiny instrument of his saving work.
We can be confident that God is faithful. He will bring us, with John the Evangelist, to see “a new heaven and a new earth.” When the Lord says, “Behold, I make all things new,” he includes us. For now, we are in process. We are, we are becoming, and we will be the eternal bride of Christ. This is not “pie in the sky,” a remote and unrealistic hope. It is our promised inheritance for faithfully trying to love by grace, despite the weakness of our flesh. Let us love one another as God has loved us!
Can I accept that to have a fruitful life in God, I must embrace both suffering and success? Can I love others as God loves us, which may lead us to make sacrifices? Am I willing to lay down my life so that others may have life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.