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Homily notes: Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B, 6 May 2018

Fr Brendan Byrne SJ |  26 April 2018

Lectionary reading

First reading: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48.

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 97(98):1-4.

Second reading: 1 John 4:7-10.

Gospel: John 15:9-17.

Link to readings.

Commentary

The scriptural offerings for today tap some of the richest veins of Johannine literature. A single phrase in the Gospel sums it up: “Remain in my love.”

The First Reading continues selections from the early chapters of Acts (10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48). In this rather truncated excerpt from Peter’s interaction with the Roman centurion Cornelius, we find the early Church inching its way towards a new understanding of its identity and mission. It is not simply to be a renewal movement within Judaism but an instrument for the gathering of all nations into one worldwide People of God. As so often in Acts, the Holy Spirit is well “out in front” of community understanding. The community of believers, hitherto a movement within Judaism, has to catch up with the wider outreach of the Spirit. It does in the person of Peter, who is describing here the deeply moving experiences in connection with Cornelius that have led him, beyond himself and his previous understanding, to grasp the new reality to which the whole Church is being called.

The two remaining readings, from the Johannine literature, bring out the centrality of love as the supreme attribute of God. The Second Reading, 1 John 4:7-10, states it baldly: “God is love.” The “logic” in this letter often tends to run backwards and has to be unpacked. The statement comes as a foundation for an exhortation to believers to love one another. When believers truly love another, this is a sure sign that they have been drawn into and live within the life of God, which is love. We know this because we experience God in the divine outreach of love shown in the sending of the Son to be our rescue from sin.

Towards the end the writer makes an important clarification: what is being talked about is not our love for God but God’s love for us. Thus any ability to love on the part of believers is simply the extension of a great “chain” of love stemming ultimately from the love of the Father. If our lives are caught up in this great chain, then we truly “know” God and know that we have been “begotten” by God. We are living in the community of love that is the “family” of God

The same “chain” of love is central to the exhortation we hear in the Gospel. What Jesus is essentially trying to communicate to the disciples as he continues his discourse at the Last Supper is a sense of his own experience of being loved by the Father. He loves them as he has been loved by the Father in order to pass on to them the “joy” that he experiences in that divine love. There is no joy like that of suddenly discovering we are loved by someone from whom we would very much like to be loved but never dreamed that being loved by that person would ever be a possibility, let alone something that would one day come about. Such love—and the resultant joy in its discovery—is pure gift. Jesus is here insisting that the rationale of his whole life and mission is that human beings should share the joy (of being loved by God) that is his as eternal Son of the Father (cf. John 1:18).

The “commandments” that the disciples are urged to “keep” all reduce, in the Fourth Gospel, to the commandment to love the brothers and sisters. Keeping this essential commandment is what is meant by the exhortation: “Remain in my love.” The Greek word menein, translated “remain,” has wide resonances in this Gospel, embracing the idea of “dwell” as well as “remain”. Thus the fullest sense of the command here is “come to live, and remain living, within my love.” The thought is close to that we have seen in the First Reading: believers are to realise that they are caught up within the “current” of a divine communion of love. They should “remain” within that current by allowing divine love to flow through them to one another.

The second half of the reading brings out the sacrificial quality of the love in question. The love that Christ is passing on to the disciples involved laying down his life for them as his “friends.” Despite the vast difference between ordinary human beings and Christ as Son of God, the disciples can think of themselves as his “friends” rather than servants for two reasons. First, he has made the supreme gesture of friendship by laying down his life for them. Second, he has shared with them the intimacy he enjoys with the Father. They are “friends” not through their choice of him but because he has chosen them—all part of a vast divine design to communicate God’s love (= “bear fruit”) to the world.

 

Brendan Byrne, SJ, FAHA, taught New Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic., for almost forty years. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Divinity (Melbourne). His commentaries on the Gospels can be found at Pauline Books and Media

 

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