Today, Jesus tells His disciples that they should keep God’s commandments. The reason might surprise us.
Gospel (Read Jn 15:9-17)
In our Gospel, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the importance of their obedience to His Father’s commandments. Sometimes discussions about obedience can seem like a warning, but not this one. That’s because Jesus lays the groundwork for His followers to understand how their obedience is supposed to work. First, He tells them of His love for them. It is the same love the Father has for Him. What stronger words could Jesus have used to make this point? Before there is obedience, there is love. Jesus uses His own life as an example to demonstrate this relationship between obedience and love. The Father’s love is a fact, above and beyond everything else. Jesus, as the loved Son, desires to remain in (not earn) that love. He does this by obedience. Human obedience to God is what keeps us in the love He freely offers to us. The reason for that is simple. God only requires of us behavior that will ultimately make us happy. He only asks us to do what He originally designed us to do—live in His image and likeness. Obedience to His commandments, then, is for our sake, not His.
Jesus makes this clear: “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” The call to obedience is a call to joy. It is only the disruption of sin in us that twists obedience into something heavy, something to be dreaded as if it were a hindrance rather than a path to happiness. In addition, Jesus shows here that obedience is a response to love, not a way to earn it. He wants His followers to live in love: “This is My commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” Soon, He will prove that love on the Cross: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Should we recall here that all but one of His friends fled from Him in His dark hour? Their love failed; His didn’t.
Why didn’t Jesus give up on His fickle friends? Why doesn’t He give up on us? There can only be one answer—His love. Something much bigger than their own steadiness is at work here: “It was not you who chose Me, but I who chose you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” His love was not based on their behavior. He had already decided to love them, no matter what. Why would He want to love that way? Because both His divine and human natures were ordered to love unconditionally.
And so is ours. That is why Jesus gives us the commandment to follow His example: “This I command you: love one another.” To love the undeserving gives Jesus joy. Here, He is simply laying out for His disciples (and for us) the path to joy. Will we follow Him on it or not?
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please help me remember that in every contact I have with any person anywhere, love comes first.
First Reading (Read Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48)
In our Gospel, Jesus called His disciples to live in unconditional love. He promised to demonstrate what that looks like by laying down His life for them. He pointedly told them that He had chosen them to also live this way, bearing “fruit that will remain.” Did that happen?
Our reading in Acts gives us a wonderful snapshot of how Jesus’ words were fulfilled in the early days of the Church. In order to appreciate that, we must recall that Cornelius, the man to whom Peter was sent by the Holy Spirit, was a Gentile. Jews had no dealings with Gentiles. By custom, they would never enter a Gentile’s home, as Peter does here. Yet Peter had earlier had a vision in which Jesus told him not to call “common” what God has cleansed (see Acts 10:15). The Gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles (to the Jewish way of thinking, the greatest possible act of unconditional love), and Peter was the man to do it (wasn’t it Peter who denied Jesus on the night of His arrest?). The results were astonishing, of course. The Gentiles received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit even before Peter had finished speaking. The fruit of Peter’s willingness to visit a Gentile, always considered to be contemptible sinners by Jews, was great joy.
It is always that way when we keep the law of love.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, this example of a Jew loving a Gentile helps me know that there should be no barriers to my willingness to love—none.
Psalm (Read Ps 98:1-4)
The psalmist calls Israel to “sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wondrous deeds.” This prophetically describes a time when God’s great love for all people, not just the Jews, would be revealed within human history. That moment, of course, came in the Incarnation. Jesus came to prove God’s love for His creation, offering His life on our behalf and giving us a share in His own Resurrection life. This was the news that Peter preached to Cornelius. Surely when those Gentiles were “speaking in tongues and glorifying God,” they had on their lips what our responsorial puts on ours today: “The Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power.” When we understand God’s great love for sinners, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, we want to heed the psalmist’s call: “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read 1 Jn 4:7-10)
In his epistle, St. John sums up for us what Jesus taught in the Gospel, what Peter demonstrated in Acts, and what the psalmist praised so joyfully: “God is love.” This love comes to us before we are able to “love one another,” as St. John urges his readers: “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.” We are always working from that grounding in God’s love. Our obedience to the commandments to love God and others can only be a response to what we have received from Him. If we are without love, then we don’t really “know God, for God is love.”
To know for ourselves the unconditional love of God will always propel us in the direction of sharing this love with others. Trying to keep the commandment of love, as difficult as this often is for us, is the way “we might have life through [Jesus].” We have received God’s love although we didn’t deserve it; will we offer it to others just as undeserving as we?
Possible response: Heavenly Father, these readings are all about love—Yours and ours. Let this be an Easter lesson for me. Life after the Resurrection means the victory of love.