All you need is love!
The Beatles song of the same title makes it all sound so easy!
In John’s Gospel, which we listen to again this weekend, love abounds. Indeed, today’s passage begins and ends with love. Not just that, Jesus declares quite clearly that if we love him we will keep his commandments.
That is reassuring because, I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word commandments I immediately think of rules and regulations: what I have to do and what I have to avoid? Actually, if I am honest, that usually means what is the minimum I can get away with!
The other gospel writers were not slow in recording Jesus’ commands, such as turning the other cheek, going the second mile or giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s! Clear examples that give you safe parameters to work in.
But you can look as much as you like in John’s Gospel, you won’t find that reassuring list of suggestions – a catalogue of do’s and don’ts. Disappointingly, Jesus only gives one command in John’s Gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”
Nothing could be simpler! Repeated over and over again in John’s Gospel is this emphasis on love.
There is something personal and immediate about this command to love that prevents it from being put off into the future but rather to be grappled with now. It is almost as if we are being reminded that judgement and eternal life begin now and not at some imaginary point in the distant future. If that is the case then the simple question we all have to continually ask ourselves is “In what ways did I or did I not love today?” We can attempt to answer that question at the end of each day but we can also ask that question many times during the day. And as you answer it, judgment happens! Perhaps it is as simple as that!
But before we bash ourselves up at our inability to keep this one great commandment, pause a bit. I get a sense that the judgement that John is talking about is not God finding a reason to punish us but rather giving us the opportunity to stop, reflect and change. It is offering us the opportunity to look honestly at ourselves, our relationships, our actions. Maybe after all we are the best judges of ourselves!
A couple of years ago Pope Francis talked to thousands of young engaged couples about love. In practical terms the Pope said that when dealing with love they must remember three phrases: ‘thank you,’ ‘please’ and ‘sorry.’
On this Mother’s Day weekend it is not bad advice, as we attempt to answer “In what ways did I or did I not love today?”.
Fr Peter Brannelly