Sunday Sermon for May 6, 2018, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts: 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17
In the readings today we are reminded of our great dignity and of the way we are to act in accordance with that dignity. We begin with what our Lord tells us in the Gospel: we are no longer slaves, but friends. This is quite a promotion! What is even more remarkable is that it was completely undeserved. Normally friendship is two people seeking the good of one another. In this case I do not think we can claim humanity was seeking the good of the Lord. Of course, God was always seeking our good.
To be friends is to be equals. We may not be equals in social status, as when Jonathon befriended David. Jonathon was the heir to the throne and David was a shepherd brought into the royal court. The Israelites, and David himself, understood the two were not on equal footing in society, but as friends they were relationally equal.
In our situation being a friend of Jesus does not make us His equal in standing, but His words tell us how He sees us and, consequently, how He treats us. In both the Gospel and the second reading we are instructed regarding the nature of love. Relationally, the foundation of love is a fundamental similarity, an equality of sorts. From that foundation the relationship of love must be a reciprocal benevolence which, when two people are seeking the good of the other, results in a communion of persons.
For Jesus to call us friends, He either had to come down to our level or raise us up to His level. Our Lord spoke these words prior to His Passion, so the Apostles had not been raised up to our Lord’s level, but He had taken our humanity to Himself and united Himself with us on our human level. However, Jesus had taken our humanity to Himself which allowed us to love Him in a human way and on a human level.
In the Gospel our Lord tells us that no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is the greatest love because it is clearly selfless, seeking only the good of the other. Obviously, there is nothing in it for the one who offering his life for the other. Having taken our human nature to Himself, Jesus had the capacity to die and, thereby, to love us in the most profoundly human way possible. It is also possible for us to love Him in a similar fashion because this love is on the human level and is, therefore, within our ability.
However, as beautiful as our Lord’s love is and as astounding as it is that we can love Him as His friend in a human manner, He has gone even further. In the first reading we hear about the baptism of the Gentiles. Being baptized we have become children of God. In other words, Jesus came to our human level so we could become His friends, but now He has raised us up to His divine level. We are not only friends, we are members of Jesus Christ and children of God. Before we were baptized being the Lord’s friend was as high as we could go (and even this was beyond anything we could ask for or imagine!). But through baptism we have been raised to a divine level of acting and being.
This means we have the capacity to love in a divine manner. When we look at our Lord’s love for us it is hard to accept how anyone could love us so much that He would die for us, and yet that was loving us on the human level. On the divine level, He continues to love us, not only by dying for us, but by giving us a share in His own life. His life is the divine life. So as members of Jesus Christ and children of God who participate in the divine nature and in the divine life. This means we also participate in the divine love.
This divine life and love are seen in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit given to us at baptism, but also in the Holy Eucharist where Jesus continues to give Himself to us. In the sacrifice of the Mass He continues to die for us and in Holy Communion He communicates His life to us. Being both human and divine, He loves us on both levels; being human and participating in the divine nature, we are to love Him on both levels.
Our Lord tells us we will remain in His love if we keep His commandments just as He kept the Father’s commandments. His commandment is to love, so on both levels, human and divine, we are to love and to be love!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.