6th Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2024

 6th Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2024

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

 

Theme: What Remaining in Jesus’ Love Mean

The Gospel story we heard today is not a standalone narrative but a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel. Together, they form a cohesive unit called “The Vine and the Branches Discourse.” This discourse is part of a larger sequence, beginning with Jesus’ Last Super Discourses (14:1-14) and his promise to send the Advocate to his disciples (14:15-31) that immediately precede our text and concluding with Jesus preparing his disciples for the world's hostility (15:18 – 16:4) that immediately follows our text. Thus, the historical context of John 15:1-17 is rooted in Jesus’ final comments to his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13-17). It extends beyond the immediate crisis of Jesus’ departure, serving as a guide for his disciples in the tumultuous days following his passion and death.

It is necessary to briefly review what the first part of this discourse (Jn 15:1-8) taught us last Sunday. It spoke of Jesus as the true vine, his Father, God, the vine grower, and the believers, including all of us, the branches. Like the vine gives wine, Jesus, the “true vine,” offers his Blood as the true drink for the eternal salvation of the world. In John 6, Jesus spoke of himself as the Bread of Life. So, bread and wine are two species used in the celebration of the Mass. Therefore, believers can remain in Jesus mostly when participating in the Eucharistic celebration, during which they receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Communion after listening to him in the Scripture readings. Jesus exhorted his disciples to remain in him as he remained in them for at least three reasons: to bear much fruit, to live, and so that God might hear their prayers. He warned them about the role of his Father, the vine grower, which consisted of taking away those in him who do not bear fruit and pruning those who do. Here, the disciples and all of us learned that we are not just passive recipients of God's grace but active participants in his plan. We are expected to remain in Jesus, the true vine, produce fruits of virtues, holiness, and good works, and allow God always to prune us (meaning, discipline us) despite its painful process so that we continue bearing more fruits. If we fail to do so, at the last judgment, God will cut us off from the Body of Jesus and throw us into the fire of hell for eternal condemnation (see v. 6.) So, in this first part of our Gospel story, Jesus exhorted his disciples and all of us to remain in him as he remained in us and let God prune us to bear much fruit and have eternal salvation.

The second part of the Vine and the Branches discourse is today's Gospel passage (Jn 15:9-17.) Its context is found in the story that immediately follows our text (15:18 – 16:4a), in which Jesus asserts that people may persecute his disciples as they did to him. In our text, Jesus prepares his disciples for the world’s hate. He calls them to respond with great love instead. This love entails a one-on-one relationship and experience with God, keeping Jesus’ commandments and changing the status from slaves to Jesus’ friends.

Jesus calls his disciples to remain in his love. He says, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” (V. 9). Notice the word “as” in this statement. It compares two loves: the love between God the Father and Jesus and the love between Jesus and his disciples. The way God loves Jesus is the same way Jesus loves his disciples. The love that Jesus uses to love his friends comes from his personal experience of love with his Father God. This means we love others using the love placed within us by those who had loved us first. Unfortunately, it is sad to notice that many people in our societies have an unhappy experience of love behind them. They came from broken families; they experienced a lack of love from their parents and siblings, betrayal and cheating from their spouses and friends, and rejection and discrimination from their society. They received rejection where love was expected. To them and all of us, the liturgy of today’s Mass exhorts us to consider and use Jesus’ love for us.  Jesus loves us and invites us to remain in his love. This means that the way Jesus loves us with the love he gets from his Father is the same way we should love our brothers and sisters using our experience of love with Jesus.

First, to remain in Jesus’ love implies our one-on-one relationship and experience with him. We can use Jesus’ love in our love for others only when we ourselves experience it in our personal relationship with him in prayer life, using the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession), and good works. This is what our second reading tells us when it says that we should love one another because we know God and are begotten by him. It affirms that God is love, so to know God results in loving others. We cannot say we know God if we do not love one another. Therefore, to remain in Jesus’ love entails our personal relationship with God and leads us to love our fellow humans as he loves us.

Second, to remain in Jesus’ love entails keeping Jesus’ commandments. Jesus connects the call of remaining in his love with keeping his commandments. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (V. 10). Remaining in Jesus’ love and keeping his commandments go together. One who loves Jesus must necessarily keep his commandments. He explains what he means by “his commandment.” His commandment is this: “Love one another as I love you.” (v. 12.) The comprehension of this statement is on the word “as.” We are called to love our brothers and sisters “as” or in the same way Jesus loves us. And the way he loves us consists of laying down his life for us, his friends (v. 13). Therefore, we can say that we love Jesus and keep his commandments when we are capable of loving one another to the level of laying down our lives for those we love.

Third, remaining in Jesus’ love and keeping his commandments changes our status from slaves to Jesus’ friends. “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (V. 15, NABRE). The word “slaves” here means “servants.” Moses (Dt 34:5), Joshua (Jos 24:29), and David (Ps 89:21) were called “servants” or “slaves of Yahweh.” Abraham was called a “friend of God.” (Is 41:8; 2 Chr 20:7.) In our text, the transition from “slaves or servants” to “friends” explains how Jesus invites us to a deep relationship with him. Our personal experience with him is no longer based on a relationship between the Master (him) and servants (us) but between friends. This means, in our turn, we should love all people as our friends with no discrimination. This is what our first reading teaches us.

The context of this first reading is the meeting between Peter (a Jew) and Cornelius (a Gentile), which broke the barrier that separated the Jews and Gentiles. God first appeared to Cornelius in a vision and asked him to invite Peter to his house (10:1-8). He then appeared to Peter also in a vision and told him to eat the food that the Jews considered “profane and unclean.” He told him that he should not call profane what God had made clean. Then God asked Peter to go to Cornelius’s house without hesitation. Note that at that time, it was prohibited for a devout Jew to socialize with the Gentiles. But here, God asked Peter to accept Cornelius’s invitation (10:9-23). Peter went to socialize with all the Gentiles found in Cornelius’ house. Our first reading picks up from here. First, Peter and Cornelius met (vv. 25-26). Then, he delivered his speech, which promoted unity between Jews and Gentiles. “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. 35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”  (Vv. 34-35). The Holy Spirit fell upon all the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house, listening to Peter. Consequently, Peter baptized them all (vv. 44-48). The meeting between Peter and Cornelius broke the longtime barrier that separated the Jews and Gentiles. Our “remaining in Jesus’ love” that Jesus invites us to in our Gospel should also break all barriers that separate us from our fellow humans.  

The world continues to hate believers until today, as it did to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus prepared us to respond to hate with great love. May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to love everyone as Jesus loves us. Amen.

 Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

 

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