Thursday, May 2, 2013

By request last Sunday's homily

The Fifth Sunday of Easter: 2013

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, has documented the very poor perception of the Church among 16-29 year olds:  87% say we are judgmental- 85% hypocritical- -72% out of touch with reality -70% insensitive to others.

How should we respond to this data? We could say that probably Christians at least  have better ratings than politicians.  Our numbers cannot be worse than those of Nancy Pelosi. It is hard to think of any institution in our society which could do much better. Or we could point out that mostly this is a measure of how nice Christians are and, while there is something to be said for being nice, that is not the only or even the highest criterion by which you judge a group of people. Or we might reverse the poll: this demographic sounds pretty judgmental, out of touch and insensitive.

But what we ought to say is “the situation is worse than they realize.” “They don’t know the half of it.” Of course Christians are hypocrites because the yardstick by which Christians are to be judged is given in the Gospel this Sunday by Jesus himself. In the upper room, in the night in which he was betrayed, when Judas had gone out, Jesus gave us the much higher standard of love: By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

A high standard but some would complain a vague one. Jesus had a lot to say about love: love of God, love of neighbor, even love of one’s enemies. Maybe the 16-29 year olds would say that is exactly what they do not like about Christians: they are not loving. But it is often the case that what people mean when they talk about love is something you catch like a disease or even more oddly that love is love of certain special interest groups to whose political demands you must acquiesce.

What Jesus has to say about love in the Gospel is not vague but it is also neither obvious nor easy.

Jesus was not at all vague about love in the night in which he was betrayed. The approach of death does have a way of sharpening your perspective.

The first thing we might notice about the words of Jesus here is that he is talking about the love that Christians have for other Christians: if you love one another. There is no more ecclesiastical moment in the life of Jesus than that which occurred on Maundy Thursday, when he prayed

“I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine. I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

The love that Jesus calls his followers to in the first place is ecclesial love, the love of the brethren. Which reminds is that love of Jesus is not political and social but personal. It is relatively easy to love, when all love means is voting a certain way or upholding the rights of this or that oppressed minority. Loving the people with whom you live is another story. The real scandal of the Church is the perennial failure of Christians to love the guy who sits in the next pew.

Certainly we can and should love people who are not Christians, people who are distant from us as well as those who are near to us but we are not obligated to love particular groups of people for the very simple reason that we cannot love abstractions but only concrete individuals.

We are commanded by Jesus to love one another as he has loved us. The context could hardly be described as romantic or undemanding. It is love in the midst of treachery, love next to Judas as he set in motion his act of betrayal.  It is love that reverses expectations.  Jesus says that he will not be with his disciples for much longer. Death is in the air. Whatever glory can be expected, it will not be effortless. Love  is often without much sense of emotional satisfaction or warm desire or the meeting of one's needs.

When Jesus tells the disciples to love another as he has loved them, he is telling them two things really.

First, he is telling them that his life among them has set a pattern for what love is; he is saying, love one another in the same way as I have loved you. That is, love without reserve or calculation, let your love be constant and truthful, and know that it will be costly and sacrificial. Jesus' whole life and death were illustrations, definitions in action, of his meaning.

Secondly, in commanding the disciples to love one another as he had loved them, Jesus was saying that they should love because he had loved them. Christians are capable of this rather astonishing kind of love only because they have first received it from Jesus himself. But alas we are often not interested, but if we are not interested, who will be?

We will inevitably be judged by the world and judged harshly. But our judgment of ourselves must to be harsher.  Whatever the world wants of us, Jesus wants more:

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

No comments: