Love must be our way

  • May 1, 2009
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 10 (Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

Who can blame the Jerusalem community for being suspicious of Saul? He hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the Christian movement. By his own admission he was a zealous persecutor, casting many believers into prison and even voting for death on numerous occasions. He was their chief tormentor and persecutor — and now he turns up at their meetings and wants to be accepted!

But in many respects the man who now stands before them is a different Saul. After his encounter with the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus he has come to realize that he was wrong about Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was not cursed by God and was not a sinner as many claimed. God had proven that by raising Him from the dead. The final days of the old world order have begun with His resurrection and a new world is coming into being. 

Saul’s conversion was not from one religion to another for he considered himself a faithful and believing Jew throughout his life. His conversion was rather one of worldview, especially his understanding of God’s activity in human history and the changes in our relationship with God resulting from the ministry of Jesus. Perhaps we should consider Saul’s life in relation to our own. During his pre-conversion years he was sincere and convinced that he was right and that his way was the only valid one. In that sense he is so much like many of us. Even now as a believer in Jesus there is ample evidence that Saul is still the same man: emotional, energetic and zealous, and with a tendency to intolerance and fanaticism. And he is still utterly convinced that he alone is right.

Our beliefs are driven by our experiences — new experience can turn us around in our tracks. Being sure of ourselves is no guarantee that we are right. Keeping this in mind can keep us from slipping into dogmatism and intolerance.

John has a wonderful insight into the notion of love. The sort of love manifested by Jesus does not consist in words, speech or ideas but in action. Love is as love does — and it must always be about seeking the happiness, well-being and peace of others — even those whom we do not really like. Judging, labelling or condemning others has no part in this. It is paradoxical that love is conspicuously absent from so many of our political and religious controversies. “Being right” can all too often be considered a free pass to viciousness, unkindness and even violence. We experience true inner peace and peace with God only when love becomes our way of life.

In the Gospel of John Jesus often relies on metaphors to describe His identity, nature and mission. The metaphor of the vine would have been very meaningful to a culture in which vineyards were the basis of wealth and sustenance. The meaning is somewhat lost on modern city dwellers. The metaphor describes our source of life and spiritual energy: for the believer it is from Jesus. Just as the vine sends nourishment into the branches and enables it to bear fruit, so Jesus sends the life-giving spirit into those who believe in Him.

But there is a catch: to be spiritually nourished in this manner one must “abide” or remain in Him. Abiding means dwelling or living in Jesus — taking on His mind and heart as one’s own. This results in inner transformation by means of the spirit. In addition to bearing spiritual fruit, believers who abide in Jesus are also empowered in ways they never imagined. Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus promised His followers that they would be able to do even greater things than He had done.

The withering of the branches and the lack of vitality that Christianity is now experiencing can be traced to our unwillingness or inability to abide in Christ. We cannot cling to old patterns of living and thinking and to our ego identity and still hope to experience the new life in the spirit promised by Jesus.