[5th Sunday of Easter, Year C, 24 April 2016 / Acts 14:21-27, Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13, Rev 21:1-5a, John 13:31-33a, 34-35]
The disciples Paul and Barnabas are on fire to announce the Good news of the love of God. In the first reading of today (Acts 14:21-27), they visit no less than seven cities – Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga and Attalia. The number 7, the so-called perfect number, signifies fullness and completeness. What was moving these two? What were they announcing? They were strengthening the faith of the people and encouraging them to remain firm in faith. The name Barnabas actually means “son of encouragement,” so he was living out his identity. Each one of us is called to live out our identity too.
Once when I was in Rome our teacher of Scripture asked us what our surnames meant. I had never thought of that before. What amazed me was the response of the African students. Each of their names had a deeper meaning – Chibuzo meant “God lead the way” and Ochieng “born when the sun shines.” Another one meant “He whose only medicine will be the leaves from the tree!”
It makes us reflect on the name of every baptized “Christian.” What does it mean to be Christian? How to live out that identity? Some computers have a sticker that says “Intel inside” but as Christian we have a greater power – “Jesus inside.” In the second reading of today, John gives us his revelation “A loud voice came from the throne – Here is the dwelling of God among mortals, he will pitch his tent among them and they will be his people; he will be their God-with-them.” Where is the dwelling of God among mortals? In the tabernacle, yes; in the sacraments, yes – and also in the heart of every Christian. God is love and his love as St. Paul reminds us, “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).
It reminds us of the title of a book written by the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, “Where love is, God is.”
This is why Jesus gives us a new commandment. Most people are more familiar with the “Ten Commandments” than the new commandment of our Lord. When many people today think of Christianity today they just associate it with binding rules and regulations, commandments that inhibit freedom and even true personal and human growth and development. But the new commandment of Jesus is what will liberate us and make us fully human. Our Lord said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” (John 13:31-33a, 34-35)
When we love then God’s face is made present in the world of today, in our families and in our homes. Love makes the world go round and how many times in our relationships we make the same appeal as the singer Elvis: “Love me tender, love me dear!” Of course we are already loving but not any type of love will create a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelations 21:5). A new world needs a new quality of love, the love of Christ. A love that is patient and kind, that is capable to forgive and not keep a record of wrongs. A love that believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Jesus believes and knows we are capable of such a love.
Sometimes we make an excuse: “Well, I am only human” but if only we were truly human! Let us not water down the quality of love in our hearts. That is why Jesus adds, “Love one another AS I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). The scripture scholars remind us that this ‘AS,’ or kathos in the original Greek text, is very significant because it means with the exact same quality of love. Wow, we have a great power and potential to love. Let us start to exercise it this very day. And as Jesus reminds us, “If you have love for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). When people witnessed the goodness and kindness of St. Charles de Focauld, they would say, “If this is the servant, imagine how good the Master must be.”
Our Christian lives and witness, if we are truly living with Christ in us, should lead others towards him. Perhaps we can ask ourselves if our life, word and even silence lead others to Christ? In the way we love in the different realities, are we making God present? Because where love is, God is.