CYCLE B | EASTER | WEEK 3
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
A little boy and his father visited the local store. Upon leaving the store, the store owner offered the little boy some free sweet. “Get a handful of candies”, the merchant said to the boy. The boy just stood there looking up at his father. The owner repeated himself, “Son, get a handful of sweets; it’s free.” Again the boy did not move, continuing to look up in the face of his father. Finally, the father reached into the candy jar and got a handful and gave it to his son. As they walked back home, the father stopped and asked his son why he did not grab a handful of the free sweets. The boy, with a big smile on his face, looked into the face of his father and said, “Because I know that your hand is bigger than mine.”
Jesus must have stunned his disciples in today’s Gospel when he pointedly told them: “It was not you who chose me; it was I who chose you.” Our faith has always meant our quest for God, our quest for meaning, etc. It has always been our initiative. But here, Jesus turns things on their head. He implies that our choices with regard to God are very secondary. The primary thing is that God seeks us out; that God has chosen us.
To get that order right is to get the most from our faith. It means that I’m no longer confined to the tiny world of my plans and projects, no matter how lofty they seem. It means that I abandon my own script to be cast in the drama that God himself scripts, directs and produces because the stories we tell about ourselves are only as interesting and compelling as the imaginations of our little minds. The fun begins when we resign to playing a part in God’s own drama. St (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta once said that if you want to give God a good laugh, tell Him your plans.
Being cast in God’s drama implies that we have been given a mission. Speaking further, Jesus says: “I have commissioned you to go and bear fruit” i.e. to accomplish something. Christianity is mission oriented. It is not so much about self-realisation through withdrawing into oneself but about realizing ourselves to the extent that we fulfil our mission. Every biblical hero was given a mission. Our mission can come in different forms but it is always a mission of love because God is love as St John clearly states in our Second Reading.
Love is the very nature of God such that God cannot but love. Hence, no matter what kind of person I may be, no matter what I have done against God, against others or against myself, God’s love for me is absolutely unchanging. We are called to a mission of the same unconditional love towards others. That’s the one command Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. He does not say: “Love me or love God as I have loved you.” He says: “If you want to be my disciple, then you must love one another as I have loved you.” In other words, “Give others what you already have been given.”
Hence, it is not about keeping rules and commandments. I do not really have to worry and ask, “Is it a sin to do, say or think such a thing or does the Church allow me to do this?” Rather, I should ask: “When I do, say or think such and such, am I really a loving person?” Love is a way of life, an internal attitude which influences every single thing we do and say and think. God loves me unconditionally but that love is not in me if I am not passing it on to others and unconditionally.
To be realistic, loving people unconditionally is not easy. Curiously however, when we fail in love or give in to outbursts of anger or hatred, we rationalise that “we are just being human.” We don’t realise that the way of the Gospel, the way of love, is in fact more in tune with our deeper nature. As Nelson Mandela once observed, “It is more human to love. Deep down, we all want to love and be loved. Hatred is learned, so it can be unlearned.”
No matter how fantastic or glorious your life is, it gets better when you find a way to share it with someone else. Jesus himself gave the greatest expression to this mission of love, laying down his life for his friends. One must therefore find a way to make one’s life a gift. One is alive to the extent that one is loving, to the extent that one’s life is a gift. John furthermore says something profoundly instructive: “Wherever there is love, there is God.”
He does not say, “Wherever there are Christians, there is God” but implies that anybody, of any creed and none, that is filled with true love for others reflects God. By implication, a very religious person who lacks love lacks God in their life but wherever in the world there is truth, compassion, justice, true freedom and peace, God is certainly there. If we really love our brothers and sisters, including strangers and even enemies, we do not have to worry if we love God. The Good Samaritan is called “Good” not because he was a religious person but because he reached out in compassion to someone who was supposed to be his enemy – a Jew.