May 9, 1999 -- 6th Sunday of Easter "A"
Acts 8,5-8.14-17; 1Pet 3,15-18; John 14,15-21
H O M I L Y
This Gospel, like the one of last Sunday, is taken from the first farewell discourse of Jesus at the last Supper. Contrarily to all the other discourses of Jesus in the Gospel, which were addressed to the public at large, those of the Last Supper are addressed to the small group of disciples, whom Jesus considers and calls his friends. At the same time that Jesus is expressing his love to them he is also asking for love. An expression of his love has been to give them the commandments of life; therefore he insists that: "if you love me you will obey the commandments I give you". It is important to note that Jesus does not say "if you obey my commandment", as if he were referring to the one commandment of love mentioned in the preceding chapter of John's Gospel. He says "if you obey my commandments", referring to all the commandments that spell out that one commandment of love.
We too easily establish an opposition between the observance of the law and love. For Jesus, such an opposition does not exist. The observance to his commandments is an expression of love and creates a communion of love between us, Him and the Father. "He who obeys my commandments says He -- is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my father; I too will love him and reveal myself to him. "
The whole passage speaks, from several different angles, of the indwelling in us of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and of our indwelling in them. That indwelling is realized through the communion of the hearts. In another passage Jesus says: "I love the Father, and I do everything that he has commanded me".
We can consider obeying God's commandments or any order as being controlled by someone else or something outside us; and, of course, since we want to be autonomous, we rebel against that. But that's not the meaning of obedience for Jesus. Obedience for Him is an act of love. Just as thinking is the activity of the mind, willing is the activity of the heart; and, therefore, to will the same thing as another person, to share the same will, the same desire, the same resolve is an act of love.
And that is part of the meaning of community life. This is true of the common life of two persons in marriage, and it is true of the common life in a monastic community. When we make profession as monks for example, we choose a very specific way of living our Christian life. That way of life, which includes a type of spirituality, forms of prayer, and also a concrete organization of the daily routine and of the exercise of various responsibilities within the group, is explained to us during our first years in the monastery. At the time of our profession, when we are asked if this is what we want to live and we say "I do", we make an act of love. We decide to will the same thing that all those who have already made that profession and who already form this community did. From that time on our ongoing respect for that way of life which we have chosen is an ongoing communion of the hearts between us and all our brothers; every act that is done out of respect for that way of life, that is, every act of obedience to the Rule we have chosen as our Rule of life is an act of love. And since we believe that this Rule is the spelling out for us of the commandments of the Lord -- otherwise our profession would not have any Christian meaning -- since we believe this, we can count on Jesus words who said: "... my Father will love you; I too will love you. We will come and make with you our dwelling."
The Acts of the Apostles give us some additional light on the way the first Christians understood and lived that reality in a manner that was at the same time both free and creative. Jesus had ordered his disciples to preach his message to all the nations. They did it, first in Jerusalem in to the Jews in the first place; then to the Jews of the Diaspora en afterwards to the Samaritans, who were considered by the Jews as heretical and worse than pagans. The beginnings of that preaching to the Samaritans, which are narrated to us in todays first lecture, were due to the initiative of a simple deacon, not mandated at all for that ministry, but whose mission was afterwards confirmed by Peter.
Obedience is a communion of the hearts that is not pure passivity. It requires creativeness from the one who obeys as much as from the one who commands or who writes de law.