Love is the only way to know God

  • April 26, 2010
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C) May 2 (Acts 14:21-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:1, 31-33, 34-35)

What was it like to be a follower of Jesus Christ in the first century of our era? We are so used to a rather comfortable and undemanding Christianity that we can fail to appreciate the struggle, sacrifice and abandonment to divine providence that characterized the first Christians.

In his Gospel and in the Book of Acts, Luke continuously emphasizes the necessary and unbreakable link between suffering and persecution and the promised reward of entrance into the Kingdom of God. But this is not gratuitous suffering or some form of masochism. These early believers did not have a secure niche in society and their entire way of life ran against many of the prevailing cultural values. All of this put them on a collision course with the establishment and the resistance often took a violent and evil lethal turn.

Paul and his co-workers worked unceasingly and under arduous conditions to establish communities all over the Mediterranean. But more importantly they laboured even harder to encourage believers in these communities not to give up. In some ways — though not all — our own situation is similar. There is much to discourage us, whether church scandals, economic and political woes or the corrosive and demoralizing effects of the materialist and anti-God aspects of our culture. Suffering with meaning and purpose is bearable, especially when it is borne in solidarity with others. We need to hear more words of hope and encouragement from church leaders and from the pulpit. But even more than that, we need to gift one another with hope and encouragement rather than surrendering to negativity and despair.

The passage describing the descent of the New Jerusalem is most familiar in the context of funeral liturgies. But in its original context it was not primarily about life in the hereafter but a completely new and transformed mode of human existence on Earth. It celebrates the power of God manifested in God’s new creation. The apocalyptically minded believers of the first century anticipated a transformed Earth — especially human societies — that would mirror the justice and compassion of God rather than the greed, fear and violence of humans. But the true transformation occurs in human awareness and consciousness of God. God will no longer be “up there” or “out there” in our awareness but right here, among us and within us. And with that intimate knowledge and awareness of the nearness and the compassion of God the need for tears, mourning, fear and distress should fade away. That is what God intends for us, and that is what we can begin to experience by beginning the inward spiritual journey.

What greater gift could the Master give to His followers before departing this world and returning to the Father? He hands over the secret of His identity and relationship with the Father: love. This “new commandment” is not new and it is not really a commandment in the sense of being a rule to obey. Love was central to the covenant of Israel with God and remains so. But it is the first commandment given to us in the new age that Jesus has inaugurated so in that sense it is new. Love is the key not only for understanding the Triune God but the potential locked within ourselves.

Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus assured His followers that if they abided in Him then they could expect to be privileged with the same sort of relationship that Jesus enjoyed with the Father. Not only that, they would be able to do even greater things than Jesus had done. Jesus and the Father would dwell within the heart and soul of each believer. But there was always this crucial proviso: they had to love one another just as Jesus had loved them — to the cross.

Love is the only way we can know or approach God. Love is also the only way that we can ever truly be like God. And in the end, love is the only way we can be recognized as disciples of the One who was love incarnate.

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