Jesus’ sacrifice was the highest form of love

  • May 1, 2012

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 13 (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)

There is never a dull moment when the Holy Spirit is involved. The Spirit was probably the most exhilarating and disconcerting experience of the first generation of Christians. It has a mind of its own and cares little for our prejudices, opinions, preferences or theologies. That is probably why we try to keep it under lock and key. The Spirit had already shocked Peter and his companions by commanding them to eat foods without distinction — nothing that God created was to be called unclean.

Now the bar was raised: neither were people to be excluded or classified as unclean. Cornelius was a Roman army officer and one of the hated occupying forces as well as a gentile. Much to their amazement, the Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household — and they had not even been baptized yet. The revelation dawned on Peter with a mighty force: God plays no favourites and no one owns God or has any special connections. God reads the human heart — anyone of any nation or group who does what is good and just and reverences God is just fine in God’s sight. He acknowledged that no human rules, boundaries or prejudices should stand between human beings and God.

Cornelius and his extended household were baptized and welcomed into the fold. This might seem like old hat 20 centuries later but it was a huge change in the first century. On second thought, perhaps we have not really taken it to heart as much as we should. We still draw lines in the sand in order to separate and exclude and we still delude ourselves with ideas of special connections with God. Holiness codes, caste systems and barriers of all varieties are still very much with us. The presence of the Spirit can be recognized by the drawing together of people in love and service and by the dissolution of things that separate. We can only imagine what the descent of the Spirit in our own time might bring in the way of change, surprise and challenge.

Why did Jesus repeat Himself so many times regarding the primacy of love? Why did He “command” us to love? John’s Jesus had a very simple equation: God is love; therefore everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Those who do not love do not have a clue. Love characterizes both God and true believers and is the golden bond that connects them. It makes sense! God the Father’s love for the Son is the dynamic of the Trinity and Jesus assured His disciples that He loves them with the same love He received from the Father — in other words, we are invited to live within the life of the Trinity. 

Jesus dwells or remains (abide) in the love of the Father and so we abide in the love of Jesus. All of this depends on our willingness and ability to obey the commandment of Jesus that we love one another with the same self-giving love that He showed.

The highest form of love is laying down one’s life for others, and the supreme example of this sort of love is Jesus Himself and His sacrifice on our behalf. We conform to this pattern of love to the degree that we give of ourselves.

There are two unique aspects to this Trinitarian relationship. The first is joy — not an artificial or saccharine joy but the sort that can only radiate from one who has a personal knowledge of God and who is completely aware that he or she is loved by God. Experiencing the perfect love of God is inseparable from joy and is a good test of authenticity. The second is divine friendship. Jesus invited His followers — as we ourselves are invited — to more than the status of servants.

The degree of intimacy to which Jesus calls us can only be described as friendship — a relationship where there is transparency, sharing, trust and commitment.

Abiding in Christ’s love and living our own lives as an expression of love brings us closer to God and closer to our own true nature.

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