In our Scripture readings today, we are reminded once again of God’s unconditional love for us, and at the same time that God is the source of love, not us.
This is important for me to remember, because there is a verse in our Gospel reading that sometimes trips me up. Jesus says: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. 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.” There are times when I have read that verse and wondered whether God’s love might have some conditions after all. Would God, would Jesus, stop loving us if we didn’t follow His commandments? Everything I understand about who Jesus is and what He has done for us would say “No!”
So the way I understand Jesus’ words is that He is saying that if we follow His commandments we will be remaining in His love. When we don’t, it is not a matter of Jesus turning His back on us; it is rather that we have turned our back on Him. In other words, doing the actions of love (keeping His commandments) will help us grow in love and remain in Jesus. When we fall out of doing the actions of love, then we drift further and further away from Jesus and we get off-center.
For people of faith, doing the actions of love requires the grace of God. As it says in our second reading from 1 John: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us…” The Cross of Jesus reminds us that there is no way we can deserve or earn God’s love. It is a free gift which we can accept or refuse. If we accept it, we respond to the invitation to remain in Jesus’ love, which calls us to do the actions that open us up to receive and share more and more of His love with others.
And as we enter more and more into this process of receiving and giving love, we find that, just as there are no limits to God’s love for us, there are to be no limits to our love for each other. To say that sounds unreasonable, doesn’t it? But God is not expecting perfection from us. God is calling us to let Him into our hearts and lives so that He can bring us to perfection. And so we hope for a time when we will show “no partiality.” (See our first reading from Acts). We hope for a time when justice and peace shall truly reign, and that the artificial barriers that we have built up between ourselves and others will be taken down. How can we have this hope? By the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.
In our first reading from Acts, when Peter is speaking about Jesus to Cornelius and his household, he and his companions see that the Holy Spirit had descended upon them, and he did not hesitate to have them baptized. He saw that it was futile to maintain the barriers between Jews and Gentiles. If more and more of us are willing to remain and grow in Jesus’ love for us, then perhaps the divisions and violence caused by fear and hate can indeed be healed. Nothing is impossible for God!
In the Risen Christ,
Fr. Phil, CP