Today, we celebrate the last Sunday before the solemnities of the Ascension and the Pentecost that close the Easter celebrations. If all through these Sundays the resurrected Jesus has appeared before us as the Good Shepherd and as the vine which we have to be a part of, as its branches are, today his Heart is open wide for us.
Certainly, in his Heart we can only find love. What constitutes God’s deepest mystery is that He is Love. Whatever He has done from his Creation to his redemption through Christ is because of love. Whatever He is expecting from us in response to his actions is just love. This is why his words resound today: «Remain in my love» (Jn 15:9). Love requests reciprocity, it is like having a dialogue that makes us reciprocate with a growing love to his first love.
A fruit of love is joy: «I have told you all this, that my own joy may be in you and your joy may be complete» (Jn 15:11). If our life does not reflect the joy of believing, if we are overwhelmed by our own frustrations and do not realize the Lord is also next to us, consoling us, it is because we do not know Jesus sufficiently well.
In Jesus Christ, God always keeps the initiative. He expressly says so when He affirms : «it was I who chose you» (Jn 15:16). We may feel tempted to think it is us who have chosen him, but we have done nothing but answering his call. He has freely chosen us to be his friends: «I shall not call you servants (…). Instead I have called you friends» (Jn 15:15). In the beginning, God spoke to Adam as a friend speaks to his friend. Christ, the new Adam, has recovered for us not only the previous friendship, but also our intimacy with God, inasmuch as God is Love.
This Sunday, the readings we are given to meditate include a dizzying celebration of Jesus and his love and friendship for us. The first line of the gospel is from Jesus: I love you. The final words tell us how to follow him: Love one another, something repeated in the first epistle of John. In just those two readings some form of the word love is used 19 times. How can we go through life wondering if we are worthy of that?
John’s Gospel, whose poetic and symbolic language can be sometimes challenging gives us a clear message: Jesus is our friend, and he loves us. Although we often make following Jesus more complicated, his words to us are simple. The opening sentence of the gospel says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”
It doesn’t get any clearer. Jesus loves us. We don’t have to be perfect, sinless or even devout. Jesus asks us, “remain in my love.” It’s an invitation to remain in the awareness that as we go through our daily lives, we are loved deeply by Jesus in everything we do. More than that, Jesus tells us “you are my friends.” Jesus, our redeemer, is not standing back observing us, but offering us a real relationship of love and friendship. We want to accept, but may be unsure how to do that. Where do we meet Jesus as we do our other friends? In Prayer. We can get caught up in the trappings of prayer and worry about doing it “correctly.” Our friendship with Jesus is another relationship in our lives with the same movements we have with family members, spouses and friends. We talk and we listen. Prayer is conversation with our friend, Jesus, talking as we might with our friends and family members.
As we said it before, it is really astonishing to realize that Jesus selected us to be his friends. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” We have been chosen to share our lives with Jesus as he shares his with us. It’s a connection of joy. The good news, Jesus says, is joy for both of us. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” But more than that, Jesus says that because he chose us, we are sent “to go and bear great fruit that will remain.” Our role as Christians is to live out the teachings of Jesus. “Love one another.”
It’s easy to find tragedy and conflict everywhere. What is our part in bringing love to those in pain? His commandment to us is simple: “Love one another.” He doesn’t tell us how to vote, to earn money, even to pray. Just love one another, and “remain in me.”
How do we take up this mantle he has given us? How can I shape my life to follow Jesus’ example of loving more closely? Maybe praying for or working to help the poor and marginalized around us. Perhaps it just means for us to lighten up in our own lives and remain in his love. It could be as simple as being kinder to those around us. Stop being crabby and judgmental. Not assume that my way is the correct way, that my beliefs are true, no matter how ardently I believe them.
It is the challenge we got from the first reading: that God doesn’t have preference among his people. Not only my family, my clan, my…. is eligible to God’s blessings. In fact « The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were surprised that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, whom they could hear speaking in tongues and glorifying God. »
We don’t forget that we are two weeks away from Pentecost, a world-changing, life-changing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. God wants to pour out His Spirit on « all flesh » (see Jl 3:1), including on those like Cornelius who have never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. If we refuse to receive the Holy Spirit in our churches, Jesus will still pour out the Spirit on the streets, in the ghettos, and in the jungles. If we won’t open up to the Spirit, maybe my neighbors will. If the priests and ministers stifle the Spirit, Jesus will pour out the Spirit on transformed prostitutes and recovering alcoholics. We can get in on the worldwide movement of the Holy Spirit, or we can let life in the Spirit pass us by
We accept the fierce love of Jesus by following his request for us to go and bear fruit that will remain. His final words to us echo in our lives: Love one another. We bear fruit every day by sharing the love we have been given and carrying it throughout our days and lives.
Loving Jesus, help me to humbly accept your love for me. Let me feel it deep in my heart and trust in it enough to be bold as I carry it into my daily life. Soften my heart in my beliefs and let me listen to you and to others around me. Help me to remain in your love.