Love others to the fullest, let go of ourselves

  • April 9, 2010
Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 18 (Acts 5:28-32, 40-41; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19)

It is extremely difficult to remain silent when we have exceptionally good news. The words burn within us and we can hardly wait to share something wonderful. Imagine how much more difficult it would be — if not impossible — to remain silent when the news we had to share had a universal and life-altering impact.

The apostles have been ordered in no uncertain terms to cease their proclamation of the crucified and risen Jesus, an order that they have totally ignored. Peter’s answer is that they answer to a far higher authority — God — and that they must proclaim His saving power at work in the life and death of Jesus. There is so much at stake: repentance of the nation, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Who can keep quiet?

But claiming God as one’s ultimate authority is not a free pass to say and do whatever one wishes. We have had far too many examples of the tragedy and wickedness that can result when fanatical or unbalanced individuals presume to speak or act in God’s name. The apostles are merely witnessing to the things that God has done in their presence. And rather than wallowing in bitterness or self-pity they are overjoyed for the privilege or suffering for the sake of the name of God. Senseless suffering can be annihilating but to suffer for what is right, holy and beautiful can be far less burdensome and actually liberating. There are so many negative and contrary voices that obscure the presence of God in our world. Witnessing to God’s deeds of compassion is an important part of our calling as Christians.

Perhaps the apostles are aided in their fearless witness by the sort of experience that the seer of Patmos had. It is a moment in which he is able to see the big picture — the immensity of creation, the wonder and glory of the divine presence and the recognition of the universal power and authority of the Lord Jesus. To see and hear all of creation singing praises to God as they worship can only fill one with the intense desire to be part of it. Meditating on this vision and its cosmic scope can help to dispel the clouds of uncertainty and discouragement that is an ever-present danger in our own time.

The last chapter of John’s Gospel is a sort of second edition, a story tacked on to the end of the Gospel that originally concluded with chapter 20. It is an eerie sort of story — the apostles appear to have returned to their lives as fisherman after the encounter with Jesus in the upper room and the reception of the Holy Spirit. There does not appear to be any of the public and dramatic post-Pentecost activity that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. Despite the close encounter of the upper room they seem strangely distant from Jesus and somewhat unsure of His identity. The story really centres on Peter. He abandoned and denied the Lord in His time of need in order to save his own skin. Jesus poses the same question to him three times causing deeper discomfort and anxiety on Peter’s part: Do you love me? Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmations is short but exacting: feed my lambs, tend my sheep. In other words, prove it — show your love in deeds, especially in your care of others. It discloses the model of leadership in John’s community and the pattern for authentic human relationships.

But Jesus also informs Peter that his life will never again be his own. In living for others under the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit, he will be taken on paths and to places he would rather not go, even to his eventual martyrdom. In John’s Gospel, followers of Jesus are given but one commandment: love one another, as the Lord loved us. That is definitely not “getting off easy” — for we are told that Jesus loved His followers to the end — the cross itself.

A recommitment to feeding and tending the flock is an urgent need for our own time. Can we live according to that one simple but exacting commandment by loving others to the fullest and letting go of self?