5th Sunday of Easter
Once Judas had left, Jesus said:
Now has the One to Come been glorified,
and in this God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in this One,
God will in turn glorify this One in God’s own glory
and will accomplish it very soon.
My children, I will not be with you much longer.
I give you a new commandment:
Love one another.
You are to love each other the same way I love you.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples:
that you truly love one another.
Homily for 09 May 2004
Fr. Frank Baiocchi
Extreme makeovers seem to be the current rage on television these days. Men and women are undergoing makeovers of all types – from wearing apparel to hair styles to multiple cosmetic body surgeries. Audiences can check out the “before-treatment” and the “after-treatment” images. We can even follow the makeover processes step by step, with all the “oohs” and “aahs” to suit the situations. But these so-called extreme makeovers pale in comparison to the makeovers in this morning’s Scripture readings. The televised makeovers deal with images; they scratch the surface, but these Scripture readings deal with substance.
In the first reading, Luke declares that the Good News is no longer destined exclusively for Jewish people. There is a brand new agenda at work here, a revolutionary makeover of the message’s destination. All this time the apostles are thinking they are supposed to convert their fellow Jews to faith in Jesus. After all, Jews are the people chosen by God; they are the ones who share the sacred stories of Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets! But now the door is open to Gentiles as well! The message of salvation is now to be shared with anyone and everyone of good will. Nationality, tribal allegiance, bloodlines, social standing, wealth or poverty are no longer issues of concern. The Gospel is for everyone! Talk about makeovers! This makeover was so difficult to believe, so against the grain of their current religious traditions that some people simply walked away in disgust. “You’re throwing pearls to swine!” they cursed on their way out the door.
In the second reading, John, writing in exile, shares a dream. In this dream, John sees a new heaven and a new earth. He sees a new city, a new Jerusalem, descending from God’s heavenly throne. John sees a new order of things, a new way for people to live. He writes, “God’s dwelling is now with the people. God will dwell in their midst. They will be God’s people, and God will remain with them always. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain; for the old world has passed away.” Here the entire created world gets a makeover! Then, John concludes: “And the One sitting on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new!’” Wow, Talk about your extreme makeovers! God’s reign right here on earth, where love replaces law, gratitude overtakes greed, justice conquers jealousy and reconciliation overwhelms revenge!
Today’s third reading involves Jesus’ discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper. In this emotionally charged atmosphere, Jesus declares: “I give you a new command. “You are to love each other the same way I love you. This is how all will know that you are my disciples: that you really love one another.”
Since the Hebrew Torah already demands love of God and love of neighbor, one might ask how this command of Jesus could be considered an “extreme makeover.” I suggest the “newness” of this commandment lies not in the words themselves but in the manner and degree to which we are called to love each other. “You are to love each other the same way I love you!” Jesus says. No one ever loved as Jesus loves. Jesus’ love for us has no strings attached.
If we are to love others as Jesus loves, we need a new kind of love, a love that goes beyond the ordinary, beyond our immediate family – and then in ever widening circles – beyond our relatives, beyond our local communities, beyond our nation, to embrace people all over the world: the displaced and impoverished people of Asia, the war-torn citizens of Iraq, the disenfranchised farm families in Latin America, the humans suffering dreadfully from the AIDS epidemic in Africa and elsewhere. In short we need a love without boundaries, a love that reaches out to embrace even those we perceive as our enemies!
Then if we are really to love as Jesus loves, we need to put that love in action, as Jesus did. Jesus says each of us will ultimately be judged on how well we have loved! Not on how well we obey church laws, not on how much time we spend in prayer or fasting or almsgiving. Not that these things don’t matter. They do. But ultimately, these activities don’t mean much unless they are motivated by love. God is calling us to an extreme makeover. God is calling us to develop our capacity to love to the fullest. God is Love. And we are “best”, we are most god-like, when our love is strong and consistent. That’s the work of a lifetime, God knows. That’s why we are given a lifetime to accomplish it. In the end, it is extreme because real love is extreme! But it’s the only “makeover” that really matters!