SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
1 John 4,7-10
This Sunday’s liturgy of the word is an invitation to deepen one’s understanding of the mystery of theological love. The first reading shows the universal dimension of the love of God, that does not make exceptions for persons; the second reading John affirms that “God is love;” and in the gospel, Jesus invites to remain in his love and to love one another as he has loved us.
The first reading (Acts 10,25-27.34-35.44-48) narrates an episode that, for Luke, has universal meaning: the Jewish-Christian community welcomes as the will of God (something that was unthinkable for Jewish believers!) the entrance of Gentiles into the Church, without necessity of submitting to the practices of the Mosaic law. Historically, this act supposed many discussions, doubts and conflicts among the first Christians; but for Luke, the experience of the Holy Spirit founds and justifies that any person that welcomes the gospel, not mattering his or her nationality, race or culture, can proceed to be baptized. In the first place, a fundamental Christian principle is announced, in a strong contrast with the Jewish mentality that is at the root of the universal mission of the Church: “God has no favorites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (v. 34). The conversion of Cornelius and of his family represents a culminating moment in the saving plan of God. His love does not have limits and reaches all men and women without distinction. In the second place, a singular happening is narrated: the effusion of the Holy Spirit on a group of non-Jews. This treats of a new Pentecost, conceded to pagans. Like in the first one, this group also, when received the Spirit, “glorify God” (v. 46; see Acts 2,11: “preached the marvels of God”). The Holy Spirit erupts on them while Peter is still speaking and, in an exceptional way, before they receive baptism in the name of Jesus. With this description, Luke wants to underline strongly the free initiative of the Spirit, that breaks rigid human schemes that divide and separate men and women. The birth of the pagan-Christian Church is fruit, therefore, not of a human decision, but of the universal love of God and of the surprising and free action of the Spirit.
The second reading (1 John 4,7-10) is resumed in the central affirmation of the passage: “God is love” (v. 8). John does not presume to give an ecstatic or metaphysical explanation of God, but speaks of Him in a manner of dynamism and of giving. For this reason, he affirms: “Love consists in this: it is not we who loved God, but God loved us and sent his Son to expiate our sins” (v. 10). John does not invite us to know an abstract definition, but to contemplate a “relationship.” This is love: God has taken the initiative to draw close to humanity and offer to it freely life through his Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has given us live and has begotten us in love and for love. With reason, John exhorts: “My dear friends, let us love each other, since love is from God (hê agápe ek theou estin), and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God” (v. 7). The love that God infuses in the disciple of Christ is creative and fruitful. Only whoever may have lived this experience of love, will be able to generate new evidences of love. Saint Teresa of Jesus said: “we will not reach perfection in the love of neighbor if that love doesn’t rise form love of God as its root” (Interior Castle V:3,9).
The gospel (John 15,9-17) begins with a solemn affirmation of Jesus: “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me” (v. 9). The model and source of Jesus’ love for his disciples is the love between the Father and the Son. Jesus makes us objects of the very same love that characterizes the mystery of God as infinite dynamic of life and of communion. A love like this, obligates men and women to make a free and concrete response: “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” (v. 10). The response consists in observing the commandments of Jesus as he has guarded those of the Father. The disciple is invited to live with the same fidelity and obedience with which Jesus fulfilled always the will of the Father. In reality, the Christian life is nothing else but imitating and prolonging in us the communion that unites the Father and the Son, and that historically has been manifested in the love of Christ for his disciples. To life in this way makes up a constant source of serenity and of joy in the life of the believer: “I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete” (v. 11). Jesus speaks of “his” joy, that is, of the joy that he himself has experiences in his live while he lived in obedience and fidelity to the Father.
In the 12th verse, Jesus proclaims “his” commandment: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” The commandments (plural) of which he had spoken before, are now changed into “my” commandment. (Singular) Jesus calls it “my commandment” because he has given it to his very own with his word, but above all with his example, whose highest expression has been manifest on the cross: “No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). The commandment of Jesus, more that an imposition is a revelation. Love, before being a commandment, is the revelation of the bonds that unite the Father and the Son, and the Son with us. If Jesus invites us to love one another, as he has loved us, this is not wanting to impose a new norm. Love does not impose itself, no one loves for obligation, coerced by an external imposition. With these words, Jesus is revealing to man and woman the only way that realizes love. “Man is called to love, not to be better, but to be more man” (J.L. Martín Descalzo). The intensity and quality of this love that carries to fullness is the love of Jesus for his own. Jesus is the source and model, and the disciple will make the effort in drawing near as much as possible to this proposed ideal. To love in this way, is to prolong in us the love of Christ.
The disciple can come to love so only because he or she lives in communion with the love that Jesus communicates to him or to her, that is the existent love between the Father and the Son: “just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you” (v. 9). The disciple loves because he or she is loved and has known him or herself loved by Jesus with an intense love, marked by communion and gratitude. Jesus, in effect, calls his disciples “friends,” now that he has revealed to them all of the Father’s plan about man and woman and about the world (v. 15: “because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father”), and because his love proceeds the decision of each one (v. 16: “You did not choose me, no I chose you…”). This consciousness of the loving gratitude of election on the part of Jesus, assumed with profundity, frees the disciple of self-sufficiency, thus he or she has been an object of a unmerited and gratuitous call, and of discouragement, thus his love gives the security of the presence and help of the Master in the mission of giving fruits of love to the world (v. 16: “I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit”). Christian existence, in effect, like the very life of Jesus, is not only gratitude or communion, but a mystery that extends and diffuses itself on all men and women. Love is expansion. A love that is born as fruit of communion with Jesus and of the dynamism of the Spirit that he gives to the disciple.