13 May 2012
“‘This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.’” (John 15:12) (+)
Today’s readings are designated for the Fifth Sunday after Easter, and only coincidentally for Mother’s Day. Because the date of Easter moves each year, but Mother’s Day is stationary at the second Sunday of May, the readings selected by the church aren’t for Mother’s Day intentionally. These readings fall on Mother’s Day by accident. But what a fortunate accident it is. These readings draw-out for us the deep-rooted spiritual connection between God’s love for us and a mother’s love. The First Epistle of John states succinctly: God is love. It is God’s nature. Love defines and identifies who God is. But then the early Christian writer goes on to say something that in its day was startling and completely out of character. It has since lost its ability to shock us, and that’s really unfortunate because what First John is telling us is no less radical today than it was 2,000 years ago. It’s just that we’ve become sort of used to the language. The words don’t sound strange to us any more, but the message still should.
First John doesn’t surround his talk of “God is love” with our duty to love God in return. That’s what would have been expected, but like I said First John says something else, something surprising. First John says: “If God so loved us, we also must love …” And wouldn’t the word “God” sound perfectly natural there? “If God so loved us, we also must love God.” I think everyone hearing First John for the first time would expect that. but the sentence says instead: “If God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (1 Jn. 4:11) That is one selfless God. First John makes mention of God sending His Son into the world so that we can live, and even of sending the Son into the world to die so that we can live eternally. This revelation spurs First John to take this theology of God’s humility another step forward. Since Jesus is the full revelation of the nature of God and God’s love is so outward-looking, then God’s expectation is that once we realize we are loved by God, then we are expected to continue that kind of love … by continuing to love outwards, by loving others. For First John this is the only way to make sense out of God’s revelation in Jesus. If we understand that “God is love,” then God relishes all expressions of love as worship. It’s not only a test or a proof that we love God when we love those around us; our love of neighbour is our love of God.
This is made perfectly clear in today’s Gospel. There are four Gospels in the Bible. The first three are quite similar. John’s is unique. The three have an underlying theme that Jesus came preaching a social gospel, that a person who believes in God must act with respect and concern for other people. If we don’t act with a social conscience, says Jesus, then we don’t understand God. He once explained to His disciples that sin emerges from within a person, not from without, and when He goes on to explain this teaching, Jesus lists a long series of sins against our neighbours and never once mentions sins, any sin, against God in particular (Mk. 7:14-23). Jesus’ moral emphasis is on loving others. Another time a rich man comes up to Jesus and inquires how he can enter heaven. When Jesus starts ticking-off the commandments, He skips the first three that deal with God and only mentions the ones that deal with how we treat each other (Mk. 10:17-22). But John makes this message of the social gospel explicit. There is no way to miss or misinterpret what Jesus says. “‘This is my commandment,’” He says, “‘love one another as I love you.’” There is no other commandment in John. There aren’t even the Two Commandments. There is only this one commandment to love each other as Christ has loved us.
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans records one of the first tests of Christian faith. For the Jewish people there is: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Dt. 6:4) For the Muslims there is: “There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet.” For the first Christians the test of faith was: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:9) These kinds of creeds refer to a belief in who God is, but what First John and the Gospel of John are talking about is what our faith in God inspires us to do. Jesus didn’t come preaching about Himself; He came preaching a message of love one another. It’s the social gospel. Our faith in Jesus cannot be separated from our faith in what Jesus did and what Jesus expects us to do. Here again is God’s selflessness.
And who better exemplifies this message of a lived and selfless love than mothers? Who better than any other helps us to picture the perfect union of person and message in Jesus than mothers who so continuously and selflessly show their love for their families that the person and the message of motherhood become inseparable? Some churches speak of original sin, but psychology has showed us that infants and toddlers are mentally incapable of thinking about themselves as separate from their world. The world is them and they are the world. They aren’t being selfish at age three when they hog the candy because they have no mental alternative. Children learn to care about others. It’s not a sin when they’re born selfish. It’s developmental. They can’t process more. So who is it that teaches our children their first and probably their longest-lasting lesson about love one another? It’s mothers. They are the ones who lay the foundation for a young person to become a good person, and after all that First John and John have told us today, to be a good person is to start being a faith-filled person. Let us today thank and honour our mothers and the mothers around us, and let us remember the mothers called to their heavenly reward, for their work of love really fulfills Jesus’ singular commandment of “Love one another as I love you.” That we may all live up Jesus’ expectations, and our mothers’ expectations, for this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo