Acts 14:21-27; Rev. 21:1-5; Jn 13:31-35
Love one another as I have loved you. This is Jesus’ remark at the banqueting table. Of all the commandments, this is the most important. It includes others. The only failure of a Christian is the failure to love. Let us think about people we find it hard to include into our heart and ask the Lord to help us to become more loving towards them.
Watching the 1990’s film ‘Titanic’ one is struck by the orderly manner in which the passengers, assisted by the crew, enter the lifeboats. The convention is ‘women and children first’ and the boats are filled in this manner, that is until the ship begins its final death plunge. Suddenly, that saying is replaced with one we are also familiar with, ‘every man for himself’ [women are also included]. Many women and children were saved that night by a simple saying, which rightly or wrongly placed a premium on the value of women and children over men.
A dimension of love in this story which connects to our Gospel story is the heroic action of putting oneself second to another human being. This may be relatively easy when it is applied to members of one’s family or of close friends. However, we should bear in mind that it extends to all that we encounter the whole of our lives. This can be a monumental task, but we are assured of support from God and by those following/toeing the same path as ourselves.
For many of us, the living out of the commandments to love will not be so remarkable. We live is less dramatic times. Today we are faced not with tackling a crowd baying for our blood as such but with the car in front driven poorly; not with the excitement of a long, arduous journey, but with the monotony of the daily commute to work. Sometimes, it is far more difficult to love someone in such circumstances. The sheer familiarity with husband, wife, sister, partner, brother, mum, Dad, friends, can blind us to our task as Christians. May we remember that our words and actions must pass a simple test: that they must betray at every turn our deepest desire to translate the love of God into love of and for everyone. Like Paul and Barnabas, we are enjoined to present the Good Shepherd’s command of love to the contemporary world in what we say and do. Having done so, we should be prepared to accept the hardship which they speak of as the reward for loving.
Writing about his experience in Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel said, the Nazis tried to get the inmates to forget relatives and friends, to think only of themselves, and to tend only to their own needs, or else they would perish. That is what they kept telling them day and night. But Wiesel said that what happened was the opposite. Those who lived for themselves alone had much less chance of surviving, while those who lived for a parent, a brother, a sister a beloved one or an ideal had better chances of survival. It was through what they gave that they survived. Selfishness keeps us shut in, it confines us. It erects barriers and even walls between us and others. Love opens the prison. It frees us. Brian Keenan spent four years as a hostage in Lebanon. Later he wrote: ‘It is only when we reach out beyond ourselves to embrace, to understand, and to finally overcome the suffering of another that we become whole in ourselves. We are enlarged and enriched as another’s suffering reveals us to ourselves, and we reach out to touch and to embrace.
What is life without love? Love is the goal of life. According to the poet William Blake, we have put on earth a little speck and a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love. A doctor who had shared the most profound moments of people’s lives says that people facing death don’t think about what degrees they have earned, or what positions they have held, or how much wealth they have accumulated, they are concerned with who they love and who loves them. An American journalist saw Mother Teresa caring for someone suffering from gangerine and said ‘I wouldn’t do this for a million dollars. Mother Teresa responded I wouldn’t do it either. I am doing this solely for the love of God and the love of this poor fellow.