“I give you a new commandment: love one another”

As we learn in today’s reading from John 13:31-33A,34-35, God is far from a god of vengeance and retribution, certainly not a god of intolerance and spite. God is above all things a god of love. The God of Love.

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.”

If true Christians take anything from the Gospels, it should be this lesson. That God loves us and expects us to love one another. And that to say one is a Christian is one thing; to be one is another. Some say that acts alone do not make a Christian. I say that just claiming faith does not make a Christian either. The acts of faith are the proof of the faith.

There are many ways to act on Jesus’ commandment to love one another. There is simply the act of feeling good about others. There is also the doing good works for them, acts of charity and good will. And there is the act of forgiveness and the act of forgetting when others have slighted us or erred against us. Then there is the act of love that is not judging others but accepting them for who they are. Of course, there is the pure act of love, of family, of marriage, of parenting, of friendship. And for many, the act of love expressed in “making love” with our spouse.

But when we quantify the act of love, do we not in some ways diminish love? Should we not simply seek to love others for the sake of love, for the sake of joining Jesus in sharing in communion with God’s all-embracing love? Then we don’t have to worry about enumerating it but just being an active part of it.

Love. There is no greater gift to give or to get. And it comes from and through God. And as we see in today’s reading, it is a commandment. If you want to observe a commandment, make sure you count this one. For the others will follow when we actively embrace this one.

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“Feed my lambs”

Today’s reading is from John 21:1-19. In this Year of Mercy, we are called to serve one another with mercy, not to be judgmental. To love God and thus to love and serve one another.

At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus has revealed Himself to this disciples. And after feeding them, He gives them His love and then asks Simon Peter – the rock of His church – “do you love me?” Jesus asks him this three times. And three times He tells Simon Peter to take care of His sheep – His people.

There are other theological implications to this reading, of course. But in reading this scripture, it dawns on me that in addition to speaking to Simon Peter and the other disciples Jesus is speaking directly to us.

“Do you love me?” Most of us would answer, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And each time He asks us, we would more forcefully answer, “You know everything, you know that I love you.” And each time Jesus would say, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my lambs.” Why? Because many of us aren’t tending or feeding Jesus’ lambs, His people — His children, His hungry, His poor, His orphaned and widowed, His divorced and remarried, His prisoners, His elderly, His disabled, His sick, His disenfranchised, the least of His brothers and sisters. We may be giving lip service to them, but we aren’t actually tending them.

God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son. Not just to give us a get out of jail card and a ticket to heaven. But also to take care of one another, to be disciples in the truest sense and follow in His Son’s example. Jesus preached many things, but among those things was taking care of one another. And unless you have a heart of stone, you realize that Jesus’s message was about love: Love of God and love of neighbor, neighbor being anyone other than yourself.

“Do you love me?” Yes, Jesus, I love you. “Feed my lambs.” Broadly speaking, love your neighbor and help them. And not just feed their bodies, but feed their spirits. Feed them spiritually with your love. Love God with all your heart, with all you mind, and with all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Whoever they are.

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”

Peace be with you. In the Catholic Church, today is called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. And Pope Francis has declared this the Year of Mercy. It has its roots in today’s reading from John 20:19-31.

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

There is much to glean from this reading.

It’s in this story that we learn of Jesus visiting the disciples after his return from resurrection and Thomas’ disbelief until he sees for himself the marks of crucifixion on Jesus’ body. And Jesus’ blessing of those who have not seen but still have believed.

We also see earlier in the reading that Jesus had shown the disciples who were present (minus Thomas) his marks of crucifixion. Was it because they were incredulous when Jesus appeared through the locked door? If so, why did He pick Thomas to rebuke for his disbelief? Or was it because often in the retelling of Jesus’ appearances after His resurrection Jesus isn’t at first apparent to those who know him? If so, then when the veil of obscurity is lifted, when their eyes are opened, the disciples rejoiced.

This is also the scripture for the basis of reconciliation or confession through the priest, when Jesus says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

But the part of this reading that jumps out at me is the line, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. We normally see this as Jesus sending the Apostles forth to build His Church. But is it not also calling forth all believers to go forth and carry Jesus’ cross? What was Jesus’ cross? Was it not the burden of love? The burden of loving those who seem to not love us? And the burden of doing good works — works of charity, like feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, giving shelter to the dispossessed, healing the sick, comforting widows and orphans and the disabled, forgiving he or she who as wronged us, not judging the sinner, supporting prisoners, and welcoming the stranger.

When I hear someone ask, why does God allow (you name the calamity) – war, poverty, hate, injustice, inequality, bigotry, hunger, murder, neglect, abuse, and a thousand other horrible acts – I remember Jesus’ words above. God doesn’t allow them. He has sent us to act on them, cure them, end them. Jesus was the first to do so, and at His death and resurrection, at His reappearance before His disciples, He commanded them – and all of us – to do so, also.

The next time someone tells you they think that acts of charity should be left up to churches and institutions, remind him or her of Jesus’ words — that we are all that church. And remind them how Jesus greeted the disciples with the words, “Peace be with you.” Peace begins with love. It’s result is mercy.