Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
Easter 5 B - Sunday, May 2, 2021
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
This line from the first letter of John, chapter 4, reminds me of the often quoted phrase: “Love, and do what you will.” Wondering where it originated, I googled it, and discovered that it's from a Sermon on Love, by St. Augustine of Hippo. The basic point is that if what you are doing is done in love, it cannot be wrong because God is love, and if we love we are acting like God would act.
Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to do something in love?” Here, love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but a desire to do what is best for the person we love. And sometimes, we need to practice “tough love” and say, “no” when we are asked to do something or support something that we know would be harmful to those we love. Parents know about this all too well, as they frequently find themselves telling their children “no” when it would be so much easier just to say “yes”.
Clearly, love is an important Christian value. When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus offers two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. So love is directed first of all to God, and then to others and yes, even to ourselves. Both the gospel of John and the first letter of John teach us a great deal about love. Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave the only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” Last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep.” And in the 15th chapter of John's gospel Jesus says: “There is no great love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” And a bit later in the same chapter, Jesus says “This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”
But how do we discern what is the loving thing to do? Earlier this week I heard a story about a newpaper reporter who went to interview a successful small business owner. “How did you do it?” he asked. “How did you make all this money?”
“I'm glad you asked,” the businessman said. “It's a great story. When my wife and I married, we started out with a roof over our heads, some food in our pantry, and five cents between us. I took that nickel, and went down to the grocery store. I bought an apple, shined it up, and sold it for ten cents.
"What did you do then?” the reporter asked. “Well,” he said, “I bought two more apples, shined them up and sold them for twenty cents.” The reporter thought this would be a great human interest story, so he asked excitedly, “Then what?” The businessman replied, “Then my father-in-law died and left us $20 million.” The moral of the story: You need to be connected to the right people.
In the gospel today, Jesus makes it clear that in order for us to flourish as the branches, we need to be connected to the vine, connected to Jesus. “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” How do we discern what is the loving thing to do? By abiding in Jesus, and letting his example of selfless love teach us how to love as he loves us. And he promises us that “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” What a promise! Of course, it assumes that if we are abiding in him, the things we ask for will be according to his will and his way of doing things. As long as we love, as long as we abide in him, we can't go wrong, or so it seems.
But how do we know that we are abiding in him and listening to his voice? What about the possibility of self-deception? We all need the help of a wise guide—a good friend or a spiritual director who can help us see clearly and avoid self-deception. That's the lesson we learn from the section from the Acts of the Apostles we read today. The Ethiopian eunuch was a man of faith, who had traveled a great distance to worship in Jerusalem. But he needed help to understand what he was reading in the prophet Isaiah. Philip provided the guidance he needed, leading him to ask for baptism. Philip explained the good news and helped the Ethiopian eunuch to see how he, too, needed to abide in Jesus. We all can benefit from the help of a trusted friend or spiritual director who witnesses the Good News of God's love for us and encourages us in our desire to love one another and to abide in the vine so that we can bear much fruit and become his disciples.
As we approach the table of the Lord to receive his body and blood which he left us as a sign of his love for us, we are nourished and strengthened to love one another as he loves us by laying down our lives for one another. May we always abide in that great love.