Today’s Gospel is a passage I love from the final chapter of John’s Gospel. After the resurrection, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples on the shore of Galilee. After eating breakfast with his friends, he asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. It is an exchange I have written and talked about before.
What always strikes me is the way Jesus’ question is phrased the first of the three times it appears in the Gospel: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The question I have whenever I hear or read the line is what did Jesus mean by “these”? I don’t think Jesus is asking Peter is he (Peter) loves him (Jesus) more than the other disciples love Jesus. But what is he asking?
Do you love more me more than you love your friends?
Do you love me more than you love your wife? And the rest of your family?
Do you love me more than you love your life as a fisherman? Do you love me more than than you love your own ambitions?
I think he means all and everything. Do you love me more than anything?
As we sit with the passage, I think the invitation is to ask ourselves a similar set of questions: Do I love Jesus more than I love my husband? More than I love my duaughter? More than I love my ministry? More than I love [fill in the blank]? We are invited here to reflect on how deep is our love for Christ – and on what competes with our love for him.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” He then commands them to “love one another as I love you.”
If we put those two statements together, Jesus’ instruction is that we love like God loves. So it is worth thinking about what that means.
We can say a lot of things about God’s love. God loves unconditionally. God loves universally. God loves endlessly. That itself asks a lot of us: to love everyone as fully and unconditionally as God does.
But I don’t think even that fully capture it. The First Letter of John tells us that “God is love.” It doesn’t say God loves, but that God is love. That says to me that we are not asked simply to love.
Rather loving like God means being love. Not just showing love. Not just loving sometimes. But emptying ourselves of everything that is not love. That is a pretty tall order, but it is what Jesus asks of us.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Today’s first Mass reading from Acts records Jesus’ last words to his disciples and his ascension into heaven. The language above immediately follows Jesus’ ascension.
Jesus gave his disciples a charge before he left them: Go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel; make disciples of all nations. The angels words are a reminder of that charge. When I hear those words, what I hear is: What are you doing standing around here? You have work do to. Don’t be looking up there – he’s not going to be doing the heavy lifting from now on – he’ll come back in his own time. Right now it’s up to you.
We have been given of the same Spirit as the disciples. And we’ve been given the same charge. As John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici: “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in evangelization. Through the winding passages of history the Church has made her way under the grace and the command of Jesus Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” …and lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age”….
Don’t just stand there looking up at the sky. Celebrate Christ’s Ascension as he instructed us to do.
Yesterday’s first Mass reading from Acts records what the priest who said Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery yesterday afternoon called the first incident of the disciples putting into practice Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Paul and Silas are beaten and imprisoned. As they pray to God, an earthquake shook the foundations of the jail, such that “all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose.”
As the prest suggested in his homily, what happens next is not what you might expect. One would expect someone who had been unjustly beaten and imprisoned and who had been praying for release would have hightailed it out of there as soon as the door flew open. That is not what Paul did, however,
Paul’s concern was for the jailer, who upon waking and seeing the doors opened was about to kill himself, knowing he would be blamed for the escape of the prisoners. He begged the jailer not to harm himself, assuring him that the prisoners were still here. At that, the jailer “asked for a light and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
Paul gave up his own self-interest and stayed for the sake of the jailer. And, because Paul lived Jesus’ instruction to love as Jesus had loved, he then had the opportunity to further evangelize – through the efforts of Paul and Silas the jailer and his family were baptized. If we live Christ’s love, the priest reminded us, we will make disciple for Christ.
At yesterday’s Mass at St. Benedict’s Monastery, the priest focused his homily on two lines in today’s Gospel from St. John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
He contrasted the peace the world gives and the peace of Christ with two powerful examples. His first example of the peace the world gives was the family and friends of a murder victim having a tailgate party outside of the prison at which the convicted murderer was being executed. “Now we will finally have some peace,” they say among themselves with joy. What kind of peace is that, he wondered? His second example was politicians claiming after 9/11 that they would hunt down everyone responsible for the act, for then we would have peace. One candidate for office claimed we would hunt Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell in the name of peace. What kind of peace is that?
The peace Jesus offers is not the peace offered by the world. Not a peace based on returning hatred for hate, violence for violence. The peace Jesus offers is a peace based on love. If I respond to a wrong committed against me with love, said the priest, I already have peace. If am steadfast in the love of Christ, nothing can ever take that peace away.
Peace of the world or peace of Christ. Which would you rather have?
Some clubs have T-shirts to identify them. Some groups have hats or pins or some other visible sign anyone can see to identify them.
Some Christians (myself included) wear a crucifix. It is a sign by which others might identify us a Christian.
But in today’s Gospel from John, Jesus makes it quite simple. It is not about the crucifix. There are no special clothes. No pins, badges. Nothing we wear, no tangible object at all.
Instead, having given his followers the “new commandment” – the commandment that they love one another as he has loved them, he says: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It is hard to make it much plainer than that. As we used to sing, they will know we are Christians by our love. That is less a declarative statement than a challenge.
We ought ask ourselves every day, multiple times a day even: Do they know I am a Christian by my love? When people look at me do they see the love of which Christ spoke? And if the answer is no, what am I going to do about it?
I’ve heard many variations of a joke about a man who arrives at the gates of Heaven (each one with a different religion as the punch line).
St. Peter asks his religion and the man replies that he is a Methodist. St. Peter looked down his list and said,” Go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” Another man arrived at the gates of Heaven. When asked his religion, he replies Catholic. St. Peter says, “Go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” A third man arrived at the gates and when asked his religion, replied Jewish. St. Peter tells him, “Go to Room 11 but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man tells St. Peter he understands putting people of different religions in different rooms, but asks why he should be quiet when passing Room 8. St. Peter told him, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
In today’s Gospel from St. John, Jesus tells his disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
Jesus’ statement that there are many dwellings in His Father’s house promises room for everyone; and not just room for everyone, but room for everyone. For me, the statement is a reminder not just that there is plenty of space, but that those welcomed will not all look the same. Not everyone for whom there is room necessarily fits someone else’s picture of who deserves to be in heaven.
There are some (perhaps) many people who think only they and their kind will be in heaven. I decided a long time ago that the question of who is in heaven is one that is way above my pay grade. But I do take seriously – and take solace in – what Jesus told his disciples: there are many dwellings in his Father’s house, and there is room for many different sorts of people.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In today’s short Gospel from John, Jesus tells says,
My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.
In Revelation we hear that “the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
You might want to reflect on those words today. Or sit with one of the many visual representations of the Good Shepherd. Here is one of my favorites:
Today’s Gospel is one of my two favorite of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances: the scene in John 21 where Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of Galilee.
Jesus is sitting on the beach cooking some fish as the disciples return from their fishing. As he is feeding them breakfast, he asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter answers yes, the third time with some hurt in his voice.
There are two very important (albeit related) conclusions we can draw about Jesus in that colloquy, both of which have implications for both our relationship to God and our relationship to each other. First, that Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter easily. Second, Jesus accepts what Peter is capable of offering.
In a talk I gave at one of the sessions of a four-week program Bill Nolan and I gave last spring on Jesus’ post-Resurrection, I focused on this dialogue between Jesus and Peter, discussing those two conclusions and their implications for us.
I thought I’d share that podcast again this morning, since it might offer some fruitful reflection on today’s Gospel. You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 27:03. There is a break at about 5:45, where I paused the recorder while we read the Gospel passage aloud and asked participants to share a word or phrase that struck them.)
The Responsorial Psalm for today’s Mass is excerpted from Psalm 27, one of those that always brings me comfort.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
Do not be afraid, says the Angel Gabriel to Mary. Do not be afraid, says Jesus to his disciples. In moments when I experience fear, this is the line that comes almost unbidden to my mind. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? Saying the words – even just hearing them in my mind – is enough to calm me, to strengthen me. We need fear no one and nothing.
One thing I ask of the Lord
this I seek:
To dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
That I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord
and contemplate his temple.
In the law we say of certain things res ispa loquitor – the thing speaks for itself. So it is with this line. It speaks for itself; it says it all, in conveying in such simple terms our aspiration – to be in full union with our God.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.
Whatever reason the Psalmist had for his security, we are an Easter people. For Christians, it is Jesus death, resurrection, followed by his ascension and sending of the Spirit, that allows us to assert with absolute confidence that we shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. That allows us to wait with courge, able to face whatever difficulties come our way.
I love this Psalm. I hear the words – I feel them – and they bring me strength and peace.
Pray the words today. Feel them. And be strengthened by them.
Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation can be purchased from Amazon here. Or you can order it directly from the Oxford University Press here. For information on upcoming book talks and signings of Growing in Love and Wisdom, see my Facebook page here.
My Upcoming Offerings
Sacraments of Initiation - St. Thomas Apostle (Minneapolis) Adult Faith Formation (with Bill Nolan). April 10, 17 and 24, 6:45-8:00p.m.
Growing in Love and Wisdom - Augsburg College, April 18, 7:30p.m..[to be rescheduled due to snow
Intentional Discipleship and the New Evangelization - Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Minneapolis, April 28, 10:00a.m..
For information on upcoming book talks and signings ofGrowing in Love and Wisdom, see my Facebook page here. For more information about any of the events above, contact me by e-mail.