Let us put side by side a sentence from the Gospel passage for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. (John 13:34) And one from our first reading: It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
The first sentence shows the only effective way to salvation both for individuals and for humanity as a whole. The second indicates what we can expect as “temporary retribution” if we adopt Jesus’ new commandment.
It is salvation from what? Here are, arguably, the most obvious “perditions” from which individuals, people and the whole world need to be saved. Greed, self-interest, indifference, aloofness, arrogance, foolishness, intolerance, hatred, violence and other evil drives nestled in people’s hearts make life hard; sap away precious energies from it; and replace them with desolation, anguish, destruction and despair.
If we reflect on these very real pathways to perdition, we won’t be able to fall asleep at night thinking that there are many ways in which our life could be ended so abruptly or become unlivable. Well, the incarnation of God’s only Son is the measures taken by the Holy Trinity to keep us from self-destruction.
In his human flesh, out of perfect obedience to the Father, Jesus shouldered all that greed, self-interest, indifference, aloofness, arrogance, foolishness, intolerance, hatred, violence and all other awful drives people’s hearts could harbor and reacted to them with heroic, boundless love. All those ugly drives weighted down his cross and caused his death; while his loving response was vindicated by his resurrection, the ultimate proof that the way of true, sacrificial love is the only effective way to salvation.
The resurrection proves that to be disciples of Jesus, as we all claim to be, requires exactly this: that we adopt Jesus’ way to salvation: through our cross, to our resurrection and- to glory. It means that we decide to reduce the level of greed, self-interest, indifference, aloofness, arrogance, foolishness, intolerance, hatred, violence and other evil drives nestled in our hearts, and replace them with genuine, Christ-like love even if this far-reaching decision demands the sacrifice of our flesh as it demanded the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh.
Suddenly, it should dawn on us that the second phrase (it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God) becomes the inevitable concretization of the cross assigned to us, which has to be embraced daily, with courage so that we can follow Jesus most trustingly.
Now, in theory we might have been willing to do so. If we attended Mass every Sunday, we were certainly exposed to this unsettling message. We must have heard the word “cross” being mentioned many, many times. However, most of the times, we walked out of church with only a vague thought in the back of our mind that we were to carry “our cross” daily and follow Jesus; nothing more. It was only a notion. Yet, there were other times when we left church with a distinct thought troubling our mind because, then, the cross was very real, scary, heavy and hurting us too much.
When that happened, for how long did we manage to carry that cross? Or, how quickly did we drop it? Did we curse our lot? Did we allow our heart to fill with resentment and bitterness? Did we walk to the brink of despair? And, perhaps, more to the point: did we wonder: why should we have paid such a high price to redress some of the world’s wrongs? Why should it have cost us more than “our share?”
Well, the answer is rather simple: because genuine disciples of Christ are few in number. Yet, they are like yeast. They can have a tremendous impact on the whole mass of the world, although at a high personal cost, just like in Jesus’ case.
Love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another, as to say: through the cross to the resurrection.
What is important now is not so much to determine if we handled our misfortunes and hardships with courage, patience and endurance or if, instead, we reacted in a way unbecoming of a true disciple of Christ who should be always inspired by sincere, Christ-like love. What is important is for us to try again; it is to give ourselves another chance; it is to put forth an honest effort to shoulder our cross again and be open to the possibility of having to pay the highest personal price, just as the Lord Jesus did.
To keep us from a reaction unbecoming of a genuine disciple of Jesus, the Father enkindles hope in us: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
There is indeed a slow-motion miracle taking place in us and all around us. It is the transformation of people, events and things though love. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about: the transformation of people, events and things through love. It is done mostly in very quiet, restrained, unassuming ways that go undetected by most people and, certainly, were overlooked by us whenever we allowed fear or discouragement to take over our heart.
Therefore, we should wonder how often fear or discouragement (or even a touch of selfishness) kept us from acting as genuine disciples of Christ willing, as he did, to pay the ultimate price. From now on, then, we should consider the Words of life which we heed at the Table of the Word and the Flesh and Blood of our God on which we feed in Holy Communion, as the last push we need to do MORE than our share for the elimination of tears, of wailing, of mourning, of pain and the final defeat of death itself.
Love one another as I have loved you, so you also should love one another!