Faith & Thought

God’s Love Comes Before Good Works Are Performed

By Father Robert Lauder

Usually I start preparing my Sunday homily by looking over the three readings. All the readings are the inspired word of God and therefore are very special. I believe they have a special power to enlighten us and move us to action. Occasionally in one of the readings there is a sentence or a phrase or an image or idea that res- onates almost immediately with me. Something in one of the readings touches me in a special way. Last spring on the fifth Sunday after Easter each reading had something that spoke to me in a special way and the readings shed light on one another. It seemed to some extent that the homily wrote itself. The three readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter were Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27, Revelation (21:1-4), and St John’s Gospel (13::31- 33a, 34-35).

The reading from Acts which mentions that Paul and Barnabas arrive in Antioch ends with the following sentence “And when they arrived they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” I suggested to the congregation that it was very difficult to imagine how the early Christians, who had formerly been Jewish, received the news that Gentiles were also saved and redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Were they resentful to learn that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the Christian community? Were they confused by the news? The only contemporary experience that I could compare to what the Jewish Christians might have felt was the reaction of some Catholics when they were taught that people who are not Catholic are unconditionally loved by God and might be just as holy as some Catholics. The resentment that some Catholics might have to that truth is unfortunate. It might suggest that they think because they are Catholic they necessarily are closer to God than members of other religions or people who don’t profess any religion. Feelings of resentment might be due to forgetting that God’s love is a gift to everyone. God’s love for everyone is unconditional and not due to some good work someone has performed. First comes God’s love and then good works can be performed.

The reading from Revelation emphasizes God’s love. The following sentences are part of St. John’s report in Revelation on the vision he had:

“I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,

coming down out of heaven from God,

prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

’Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.

He will dwell with them and they will be his people

and God himself will always be with them as their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes,

and there shall be no more death or mourning,

wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

I think the image of God presented in John’s vision is beautiful and deeply touching. That the God who is creating the entire universe wishes to have an intimate love relation with his human creatures is awesome. God has made a commitment to us and God will never go back on that commitment. I love the image of God promising that he will wipe every tear from our eyes.

The Gospel for the fifth Sunday after Easter was short. It begins with the announcement that Judas has left the last supper. Then Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment:

“ I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one an- other.”

In my mind each of the three readings sheds light on the other two. This may be true of the readings at many Sunday Eucharists but on the fifth Sunday of Easter each reading helped me greatly to appreciate the other two. Calling the attention of the congregants to the brevity of the gospel, I commented that unfortunately the word love as it is frequently used today is not the same as the love in Jesus’ new commandment. I suggested that if we asked each person to explain what he or she thinks love is, we might receive many different views. What Jesus told his disci- ples is magnificent but unfortunately some contemporary views of what love means are very different from the love Jesus is commanding of his disciples.

How did Jesus love his disciples? First he washed their feet and then he freely chose to offer his life for them and for the Gentiles and for all people. There is no greater love. It is the love that trans- formed Paul abnd Barnabas and that was glorified in John’s vision reported in Revelation. It’s a love that surrounds us every moment of our lives.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.