CYCLE C. EASTER. WEEK 5
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
A hefty man went to a parish priest to report sympathetically about the plight of his poor neighbour who has just lost her husband and was about to be thrown out of the house with her starving children because she was unable to pay her rent. The man was tearful as he narrated the ordeal of this family. The story so touched the priest who was also moved by the man’s sympathy. So the priest asked him, “But who are you? And the man says, “I am the Landlord”.
This Sunday’s Gospel is from the scene of the Last Supper. A man’s last words are usually his most important. We hear the last words of Jesus to his Apostles at that chilling moment when Judas left the room (to place the fatal call).
Curiously, Jesus didn’t tell them to faithfully keep the Ten Commandments or to be in church every Sunday. Rather, he uses this most crucial point in the whole story of salvation to stress that love is what he is all about. Surprisingly too, he didn’t even say we should love God. Rather, he tells us to love one another, and to love as he has loved us, in other words unconditionally and with our life!
Thus, love here doesn’t just mean the affection we feel towards people we like. Love here is rather used in the sense of ‘agape’ which means willing and striving for the good of every person without exception and without expecting returns. That is love in its purest form. It is the compassion Jesus has for the sinner as one who is misguided and who needs enlightenment to be brought to the right path. In this sense, we are to love the rapist, the racist, the murderer and the dishonest person.
Indeed, it is a call to go the extra mile. As Jesus had said elsewhere, “If you love only those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit … and if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much…”
The command to love one’s neighbour as oneself had earlier been given in the Book of Leviticus (19: 18). Yet, Jesus gives it as “a new commandment” which agrees with his declaration in the Second Reading that he is making everything new (Apocalypse 21:1-5). So what is new about the command?
On the face of it, the old form asks that we love others as ourself. The writer George Bernard Shaw rightly notes that “doing unto others as you would like them do unto you” wrongly presumes that people’s tastes and preferences are the same. In the new form, we are asked to love as Jesus loves us (unconditionally). Hence, Jesus is now the yardstick, the objective standard.
More importantly however, it is new because the call to unconditional love of all is counter-cultural in the sense that we are used to loving those who love us or at least those who are lovable. Hence, it calls for conversion; a radical change of vision, new attitudes, new values, new way of behaving and of relating with other people and with God.
Jesus sets the standard for this new way by forgiving his killers even while hanging in pain on the cross, and then emerging from the grave and pronouncing peace instead of woe on those who betrayed him. Thus, he demonstrated that God’s love and forgiveness can overcome all the sins of the world. It is that love that we are called to model, empowered by the Spirit he released (gave up) to us on the cross.
Furthermore, Jesus states, “it is by the love you have for one another that everyone will know that you are my disciples.” The renowned artist Gustave Dore lost his passport while travelling in Europe.
He came to a border crossing, introduced himself, explained his predicament and hoped that he would be allowed to pass on self-recognition. But the guard refused on the grounds that many people have attempted to cross the border by claiming to be who they are not.
When the artist insisted that he was the man, the guard handed him a pencil and a sheet of paper and told him to sketch the several peasants standing nearby. The artist did it so quickly and skilfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His action confirmed his identity.
The cross has always been considered the Christian identity and symbol but “the new commandment” has changed all of that. In fact, the cross has become a fashion item that many, including non-Christians, wear as blings. Sports people, believers and unbelievers alike make the sign of the cross as they enter the pitch.
In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare reminds us that the hood does not make the monk. For Jesus, love is the only valid test and distinguishing mark of discipleship because the disciple of Christ is not primarily an isolated individual but a person in relation to others. I am defined as a disciple not by my personal moral life but by how I inter-act with other people; the depth of my love which by definition involves other people.
Thus, we really don’t profess our faith by the mindless rehearsal of the creed every Sunday, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” which really makes little or no sense. The greatest proof of our faith is not by theological or philosophical argument.
The greatest proof of our faith is in the way we treat each other and the way we reach out to all others. In the evangelisation of Africa, the early missionary groups focussed on preaching to the people to convert them while the latter groups focussed on service to the people, providing needed medicare and integral education. These latter groups succeeded where the former groups failed. St Francis of Assisi told his friars, “Preach the gospel at all times and use words only if necessary.”
The great Mahatma Gandhi was asked about his view of Christianity and what he said could show us what probably is keeping two-thirds of the world away from the Good News of Christianity: I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do need to begin to live up to your own teachings.