Fifth Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
“A new commandment I give to you: …As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus gives this command twice, again in John 15, indicating that its purpose is “to bear fruit.”
Jesus says we must first be loved (and know it!) in order to love others. In other words, love is to be passed on. As Michael Casey notes, “When we feel that we are loved, then we come alive. Then we find ways to express our aliveness by doing good to others.” This is the fruit Jesus wants us to bear. As St. John went on to say in his First Letter: “We love because He first loved us.” (4:19) And again, in John 15 Jesus reminds us, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Being loved and passing it on as love for others is an experience of DELIGHT. This, too, is the fruit we are to bear. St. Augustine was convinced that delight was the engine that drives all of our spiritual efforts. He begins his Confessions by citing our in-born urge to delight that leads to a need to praise God because “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Delight is the enjoyment of something for its own sake. What we delight in, we will do again and again. We love what delights us. Love is seeking the good of another for the other’s own sake. That is an action that can be commanded. Delight means we do not merely do good; we desire good. Taken often enough, the action leads to a feeling, a change of heart that endures. And that’s what Jesus wants done in this new commandment. That is the example He refers to when he says, “As I have loved you.” Such love, such desiring the good, is His gift, not our accomplishment. The experience of being loved and passing it on by loving others flies in the face of our fallen condition of selfishness and self-centeredness. We replace these with self-emptying, with delight over the good of another, which is how Jesus loved us. It saves us.
Jesus gives this commandment because He is missioning the disciples and us. He is missioning us to “spread the gospel and preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The philosopher Cicero said, “We must preach…so as to prove, to please (i.e., delight), and to persuade.” This is what Paul and Barnabas did. To do that, they and we must be loved by others in our own Christian community.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Jesus experienced this from the Father and passed it on to His disciples. They continued to pass on the delight of the Father’s love from one generation to the next for over two thousand years. Today He tells us to do the same. “He who has ears to hear (i.e., she who is able to be delighted by news of the Father’s love) ought to hear.” Then she can be gripped and moved to action. This is because we feel love only for that which delights us. Delight commands our affections and locks us to its object. As St. Augustine says, delight is a weight of the soul that sets it in its place. And as Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus stresses this exhortation because we do not choose what delights us; it just affects us. We choose whether to consent to it. Sin seems delightful. Consenting to it repeatedly forms a habit leading away from God. But if, in our Christian community, of the family or the monastery, we delight in love from and for one another, we will move toward God. This delight, specifically, is an effect of the gift. We will live “for the sake of”, we will develop character, and we will have an identity because Jesus also tells us, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Fifth Sunday of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Acts 14:21-17; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-35 ]
What is a city? Is it the houses and buildings, the streets and parks? Or, is it not the people? Without people there can be no city. So, when the Book of Revelation describes the city of God coming down from heaven, it is the people of God, the saints, who come down to meet us. Today's gospel begins with a somber note, describing a rift in the city of God, a separation, a falling away of a prominent member. It says, “Judas … left them” We all make choices, good or bad, and live with them forever. Think of the bad choices made by the two Boston bombers. But we don't have to live with bad choices forever unless we're stubborn.
Every ten years the people of Oberammergau present their famous Passion Play. In the scene where Judas despairs over the treachery of his choice to betray Jesus he says, “What have I done? Who will help me now? I'm cursed. To whom can I go?” Then, as he is about to hang himself, a child in the audience cries out, “Go to Mary!” The actor literally froze, his mouth open in a silent gasp as he realized the wisdom of her counsel. But he was forced to ignore her so the play could continue. Like the actor, the real Judas turned a deaf ear to every attempt of the Good Shepherd to save him from his bad choices
At the Last Supper Jesus knelt at the outstretched feet of Judas and washed them clean. It was an act of love that could have washed clean his friend's heart, but Judas was unmoved, set upon his evil purpose.
So, Jesus dropped warnings, saying, “You are not all clean,” which the other disciples didn't understand, but Judas did and ignored. Then Jesus said, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” To share bread was a sign of of friendship, and to recline next to Jesus was a special mark of honor. But Judas won't let go of his plans. There is no hint of anger in Jesus, only sorrow for a friend clinging to bad choices.
Then the Lord becomes more explicit: “One of you will betray me. … The one to whom I will give this morsel when I have dipped it” This was another mark of honor, like that shown by Boaz to Ruth when he invited her to dip bread in wine with him. Here a friend was being swept away, someone dear to the Good Shepherd, but Judas was stubborn.
When all the disciples asked, “Is it I?” Judas was also forced to say, “Is it I, Master?” And Jesus replied, “You have said so.” But not even this exposure of his intentions, moved the heart of Judas to choose good and renounce evil. Instead, Judas left them.
Finally, Jesus made one last appeal to Judas in the Garden of Olives saying, “Friend, why have you come?” When Judas kissed him it was not as a friend but as a betrayer. After the betrayal Jesus continued to be very gentle with the sinful Judas. He asked with great sadness: “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” But he would not reply. He chose badly and was stubborn in his choice.
Judas began well. He left everything and followed Christ. But along the way he made bad choices, taking back a bit here and a bit there. Money that was common to all he took for himself. And so, he ended badly.
All these things were written for our instruction. The story of Judas warns us that a good beginning does not assure us of a good ending. But even our bad choices do not have to be forever, unless, like Judas, we are stubborn. Let us continue to seek God truly, with a good heart, daily repenting of any evil we have done. Then, at the end of our mortal lives, when we hear Jesus ask, “Friend, why have you come?”, we will be able to respond like the repentant St. Peter, “Lord, you know that I love you,” I never want to leave you! Then Jesus will open his arms to embrace us as true friends of God with whom he will share his glory.