Monday, May 31, 2010

The Eucharist in the Miracle of the Loaves

Homily on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
(Luke 9:11-17)
June 6, 2010

It has been noticed that there is a growing popularity of perpetual Eucharistic adoration in the country. Probably there is no diocese in the Philippines where one cannot find one or two adoration chapels. And if one asks those who frequently visit them, he will likely be told that they pour out their hearts before the Lord, offering their thoughts, actions, asking favors from Him, or simply enjoying the nearness with Him. The devotion is, of course, a praiseworthy custom, because the adoration of the Sacred Host in these chapels is firmly founded on the belief that the Lord is truly, really, and substantially present in it. However, it would be even more praiseworthy if we, Christians, are led to a wider understanding of what the Eucharist is all about. For example, we can be taught that the Eucharist is an experience of the presence of the Risen Lord who wants us to reach out to others, especially the poor and the needy, in loving service.

Today's Gospel on the miracle of the loaves can enlighten us on this aspect. To begin with, the account of the feeding of the five thousand (Luke 9:11-17) is the only miracle story of Jesus' Galilean ministry that is recounted in all the four Gospels (John 6:1-15; Mark 6:30-44; Matt 14:13-21). It is obviously a symbolic miracle. With his inauguration of the Kingdom of God , Jesus now provides a foretaste of the Old Testament promises about God feeding His people in the Kingdom: "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines" ( Isa 15:6). In the story that gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom is all about, Jesus is the host, welcoming the uninvited and intrusive crowd. In unfolding the meaning of the Kingdom, he cares for his people who suffer from hunger and want. The Kingdom of God is thus not wholly spiritually; it is a community where all bodily and material needs are satisfied. Luke brings home this point by linking the miracle to the Eucharist, which is the microcosm of the Kingdom of God .

To be sure, the linkage between the account of the miracle of the loaves and the Eucharist can be seen in the way Luke describes the feeding of the five thousand and in the way he narrates the institution of the Eucharist. The parallels are so obvious that one is led to conclude that the Eucharistic liturgical formulation colored the account of the multiplication of the bread. The wording matches almost verbatim with that in Luke's account of the institution (Luke 22:19). The sequence of the verbs "having taken", "he blessed", "he broke", "he gave" immediately recalls the Eucharist. Moreover, the sequence could be compared with the meal scene that concludes the encounter with the Risen Lord at Emmaus which is doubtless Eucharistic ( Luke 24:29-31:35). This implies that for Luke the meaning of the Eucharist is to be seen in the feeding of the five thousand. Equally important, one should not fail to point out that the blessing and the breaking of the bread which Jesus did in Bethsaida (9:11) is, as Luke recounts, continued in the practices of the early Church in the agape meals where sharing is the common feature ( Acts 2:46) and in the distribution of goods to those in need (Acts 4:35). These reflect the responsibility given by Jesus to the apostles to nourish the Christian communities (Luke 9:13).

What is Luke's point in linking the miracle with the Eucharist? The evangelist seems to be saying that as part of the realization of the Kingdom of God , the community of the reconstituted Israel , God's people, is not only being healed psychologically and spiritually, but also being nourished eucharistically. There are three intercon-nected meanings of Eucharistic feeding, but all of them have something to do with what ought to happen in the community in which God's Kingdom is being realized. First of all, the life of the community is centered on the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, but this celebration cannot be isolated from the ministry of feeding the hungry; otherwise, the liturgy will be reduced to a ritual that is divorced from life. For this reason, it is not enough to receive communion without mortal sin; it is equally important that the reception leads to the sharing of resources with the hungry and those in need. Second, this also means that satisfying the hunger of the community members is not in itself a Christian ministry. Even Communists, who do not believe in God, still less in Jesus, feed the hungry. Rather, action on behalf of the hungry, the poor and the disadvantaged must be motivated by the Eucharist and one's faith in it. And third, the feeding is done in the manner of the Eucharist: it is really a breaking of one's bread, not just an act of giving that one does simply because he no longer needs the resources. Rather, it is a form of giving in which part of the giver dies, just as the Eucharist symbolizes the dying of Jesus.

For this reason, the miracle of the loaves teaches us that the Christian community must express the life of the Kingdom in the sharing of resources among the members. When resources are shared, miracles happen. Hoarding, monopoly, exclusivity may be commended in the business world, but they do not have any place in the Christian community, for they are anti-Christian values. To partake of the Eucharist is to imbibe the value of sharing, of giving, of losing and of dying. Without these values, the Christianity of the community is a sham. In fact, the reason why Paul in the Second Reading (1 Cor 11:23-26) upbraids the Christians in Corinth is that, in their agape meals, the rich do not share with the hungry poor (1 Cor 11:21). Selfishness destroys the community; it is an anti-Kingdom value. It depreciates the significance of the Eucharistic celebration.

Indeed, selfishness robs the Eucharist of its meaning (11:20), is a contempt for the community and an embarrassment of the poor (11:22). The purpose of sharing, of course, is not to have Christians who are filled, but to create a society where those who have share with those who do not have. That the Eucharist is central to our faith demands that we envision a Christian society that brings about solidarity with the poor and the disadvantaged as well as universal brotherhood.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The God Who Reveals Himself as Triune

Homily on the Trinity Sunday C
(John 16:12-15)
May 30, 2010

That people in ancient times easily believed in the existence of an intelligent being who is different from earthly mortals is reasonable enough. Because they were confronted with a universe that was beyond their grasp, they naturally posited the existence of someone from whom come what they see and what they hear. But his existence was not a problem. The problem was how to discover the secrets of this intelligent being. Because it was important to get in touch with him in order to have good health, life, solution to many questions and other things which they were not capable of making or acquiring, ancient people had recourse to dreams, omens, divination, casting lots, and astrology, among others. It was thought that by these techniques, they could discover the mind of this intelligent being.

But the Christian God, our God, is not a God who hides his face from men. On the contrary, he is a God of revelation. He discloses himself and his plan of salvation to man. In communicating to man his plan to save him, God likewise reveals who he himself is to man—a Trinity. The belief that there are three persons in one God is distinctive of Christianity; other revealed religions, like Judaism and Islam, do not have this belief. In Christianity, however, it is one of the fundamental beliefs of religion; it belongs to the heart of what Christianity means. But belief is one thing; explaining the belief is another. And efforts to explain it have been less successful. Of course, traditional theology, framed in Greek categories of thinking, uses such concepts as substance, persons, hypostasis and relations to unravel the mystery. But while these make sense to one who has studied in the university, the attempt is hardly intelligible to the average modern reader who has not been schooled in scholastic theology.

In today’s Gospel (John 16:12-15), however, which forms part of Jesus’ farewell discourse at the last supper, John provides us with a dynamic approach to the Trinity, which focuses on the roles of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the work of revelation and redemption.

In John, God does not communicate himself except through the Son. The revelation that comes from God is the Son’s sharing in the possession of the Father: “Everything that the Father has is mine” (16:15). At his disposal the Father places everything for his revelation: “The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him” (3:35; 13:3). In John 5:19-47, the relationship between the Father and the Son is even more fully explained, and the divine power of the Son is shown in dynamic terms. The Father so commits to him life-giving power that every act of the Son is an act of the Father: “For the Father loves the Son and everything the Father does he shows him… Just as the Father raises the dead and grants life, so the Son grants life to those to whom he wishes… Just as the Father possesses life in himself, so has he granted it to the Son to have life in himself” (5:21-26). The Father bears witness to the Son especially through he works which he does through the Son: “These very works which I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has himself given testimony on my behalf” (5:36b-37a). (It is for this reason that later theological dispute would assert that the Father and the Son are one in nature and in operation.)

Because the Son is the fullness of the Father’s revelation, what then is the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s communication? In saying that “I have much more to tell you” (16:12), Jesus does not mean that there will be further revelation after his resurrection. Rather, what he means is that it will be only after his rising from the dead that there will be full understanding of his revelation. And it is the role of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to the depths and heights and the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus: “When he comes, however, being the Spirit of Truth, he will guide you to all truth” (16:13a). The account of the early Church provides an example. An Ethiopian eunuch, a court official in charge of the entire treasury of Candace of the Ethiopians, had come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While returning home, sitting on the carriage, he read a passage of Isaiah, but could not grasp it. It was not until Philip, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, guided the eunuch that he was able to understand that the Suffering Servant in Isa 53:7-8 referred to Jesus (Acts 8:26-35).

The Holy Spirit does not mediate any new revelation, therefore. Instead, he merely draws on the fullness of that revelation in Jesus; what he conveys to the Church he receives from the Son: “he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14). (In later theological reflection, this gave rise to the dispute on whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.) He interprets and applies what he receives from Jesus to each coming generation in terms of its significance for the contemporary situation in the Church: “he will speak only what he hears, and he will declare the things to come” (16:13). That is why when the Magisterium, the Church as Teacher, proposes to the faithful something on doctrine or morals, it does not enunciate a new doctrine, but only interprets for the present generation what has already been said in the Sacred Scriptures.

To conclude: when speaking of the roles of the Trinity, it has been customary to say that the Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies. This probably explains why images of the Trinity portrays the Father with extended hands, with the sun, the moon and the stars behind him, as if he were in the act of creating, the Son crucified on the cross, which is the wood of redemption, and the Holy Spirit as bright dove with extended rays. Strictly speaking, however, this cannot be accepted without much nuances. Creation, for example, may be attributed to the Father, but it is clear that “all things came through [the Son]”(1:3) in the power of God’s Spirit (Gen 1:2; 2:7). The same may be said of redemption and holiness. Thus the Eucharistic Prayer III: “All life, all holiness, comes from you [Father], through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.” But today’s Gospel provides us with an easier way of understanding the Trinity in terms of the role of each person in God’s communication: the Father communicates to men through the Son in the Holy Spirit.*

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Mission of the Disciples

Homily on the Solemnity of Pentecost C
John 20:19-23
May 23, 2010

PENTECOST is not a distinctively Christian celebration. Originally, it was an agricultural feast that celebrated the end of the grain harvest, much like the fiesta celebration in many villages in the Philippines in honor of St Isidore the Farmer. Later, however, it came to be associated in the Old Testament tradition with the Exodus and the giving of the Covenant. In Christianity, it acquired a new significance as it became the day in which the Spirit of Jesus was given to the Church. But even in the New Testament, the giving of the Holy Spirit admits of various views and meanings. Of course, these differences reflect the diversity of the theological interests of the authors. And most of us are familiar with the Lukan account in the 1st Reading (Acts 2:1-11) whose words and images hark back to the giving of the Law at Sinai. For Luke, Pentecost is the day when God’s people, represented by the disciples, were reconstituted, and empowered to mediate salvation to all peoples.

John, however, has a different theological concern. He already exhibits a different view of the happening by collapsing the division of the mystery into Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost to a single Easter event For him, the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus are bound up with the outpouring of the Spirit, for these redemptive deeds are essentially one. And as can be gleaned from today’s Gospel (John 20:9-23), the giving of the Holy Spirit in John signifies the commissioning of the Church. Jesus sent the disciples on a mission: “I send you” (20:21b). Although the commissioning is placed in a post-resurrection setting, it really picks up a theme in the Last Supper Discourse in which Jesus prayed for the consecration of the disciples, whom he would send into the world (17:17-19).

In the understanding of the Johannine community, the sending of the disciples is patterned and grounded on the sending of the Son by the Father: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21). As Jesus was accomplishing his mission in the world, the Father was present in him, in his words and deeds: “Whoever looks on me is seeing him who sent me” (12:45). In the same way, those who see the disciples, the Lord’s representatives, will also see the Son: “He who accepts anyone I send accepts me” (13:20). Thus, Jesus is also present in the words and deeds of the Church, which the disciples represent. The three (Father, Son, and Church) are stitched together. In much the same way that Jesus came to do the will of the Father, so the Church cannot detach itself from Jesus in fulfilling its mission. It must remain faithful to him.

The Church will accomplish its mission through the reception of the Holy Spirit: “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (20:22b). The disciples are endowed with the Holy Spirit who consecrates them for the mission: “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world; I consecrate myself for their sakes now that they may be consecrated in the truth” (17:18-19). Because of the Spirit, they will even do greater things (14:12), have a more penetrating understanding of Jesus’ teaching (14:26), and they will be able to carry out the task even in a hostile world (15:25-26). It is interesting to note that standing in awe at current development, many think that the success of the Church’s mission depends on the use of technology, money, alliance with governments, and wisdom of missionaries. Of course, these may be important. But what is decisive is the Holy Spirit. Without his power, all efforts will not succeed. John Paul II made a similar observation in his Novo millennio ineunte: “There is the temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan. God of course asks us to really cooperate with his grace, and therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom. But it is fatal to forget that ‘without Christ we can do nothing’ (Cf John 15:5).” The Holy Spirit’s power alone is life-giving. When God breathed into the nostril of the man he formed out of the clay, Adam became a living beng (Gen 2:7).

What is the mission? Simply to celebrate liturgy or confine itself to the sacristy, as some critics often argue about the Church’s mission? According to John, the Church’s mission is to continue the mission of the Son (John 20:21). The Church does not engage in a new work. The mission of Jesus is simply carried out and interpreted in various times, places and situations. As Jesus did, so the Church must bring life: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life” (3:16); “I came that they may have life and have it to the full” (10:10) . The Church must bring this message of life to the individuals, to the communities, and to the world. By life, John of course means not natural life or everlasting life but eternal life—the vital and intimate relationship with the Father and the Son, which comes from faith in Jesus and being obedient to his word. As such, it is eschatological, and one who receives this life dwells in the sphere where God dwells. This is life in its highest degree. What destroys that life is not death, because it survives bodily death but sin. (This is the Johannine equivalent to the Synoptic focus on the Kingdom of God which appears only thrice in John.) And the Church will be able to give that life because the Spirit himself, which gives power to the Church and its mission, gives life, and is the source of eternal life.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ascension: A New Way of Being with the Community

Homily on the Feast of the Ascension
(Luke 24:40-53)
May 16, 2010

THE voyage from earth to heaven is a widespread motif in Old Testament and Intertestamental Literature. The journey of Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Baruch, and Abraham easily comes to mind. But in ancient religions, we even find a detailed account of the voyage through the seven spheres of heaven with their gates, hostile spirits and other obstacles. But the Christian understanding of the ascension of Jesus is quite different. In Luke, for example, it signifies the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his earthly ministry, a beginning of his exaltation, and a new way of his presence among us.

To stress that the ascension marks the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and of his earthly ministry, it may be noted that with his account of Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53), Luke’s narrative on the journey to Jerusalem comes to a close. In Luke 9:51, Jesus, whom the Samaritans did not welcome, resolutely determined to journey to the city, where the ultimate rejection awaited him. Here in the farewell scene, that journey is completed, as Jesus blesses his disciples. At the same time, this sets the end of Luke’s account of the story of Jesus, for just as it began in Jerusalem, with Zechariah unable to bless the people gathered in the temple (Luke 1:21-22), so it ends in Jerusalem, with the disciples praising God in the temple, after Jesus blessed them (Luke 24:52). The ascension, therefore, marks the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. In ascending, Jesus entered into God’s presence. This is the essential meaning of “going up” or “ascending far above all heavens” (Eph 4:10).

This, of course, is only one side of the coin. The other is that it signifies the beginning of Jesus’ exaltation: “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every other name” (Phil 2:9). “God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior” (Acts 5:30a). It also indicates the start of his glorification and his enthronement at God’s right hand: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26); “Jesus Christ who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him” (1 Pet 3:21c-22). As a high priest, he passed through the heavens (Heb 4:14) and entered the heavenly sanctuary (9:24). These images and meanings are, of course, related to Jesus’ coming into God’s presence.

But what about his relationship to us? Since Jesus is now an exalted and glorified Lord, the mode of his presence changed. Jesus entered into a new form of presence with his disciples, with us, and in the world. He is present to his disciples on earth in a spiritual way. With us, he is especially present in his signs—in his word, in his minister, in the assembly, in the Eucharist and the sacraments, and among others, among the poor. But his presence among us and in the world is the beginning of the parousia. This has been initiated into the world, but in a hidden form. For this reason, ascension serves as a principle of hope, an anticipation of glory for those who proclaim his death and resurrection in their lives. His invisible presence in his signs will be disclosed definitively in his return in glory. The preface proper to the feast puts it this way: “Christ, the mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of all, has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”

What does this mean in simple language? That Jesus must ascend—this brought sorrow to his disciples. But they were assured of his presence of another kind. Of course, life is a series of arrivals and departures. After graduating from high school, one goes to college. One says good-bye to bachelorhood when he enters into marriage. But the transition from one term to another is never easy. Some individuals get married, but their mentality remains that of a bachelor. Yet, one cannot appreciate the stage of life one enters unless there is a change in mind-set. Some parents find it difficult to realize that their sons and daughters are no longer children: they simply cannot let go. The same may be said of faith. That Jesus is seated at the right hand and no longer present to us in the way he was physically present to his disciples during the public ministry—this is not necessary a disadvantage for us. On the contrary, we must ever rejoice because of it, even as the disciples were filled with joy as they witnessed the ascension. Today, his presence to us who believe in his power is no less real than his presence to his disciples. And that experience of his presence is the beginning of the parousia. If we have an intimate relationship with him, we are assured of the final revelation of that participation when he returns in glory. The final transition will occur, and what Jesus is, we will experience and share.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Holy Spirit as Teacher

Homily on the 6th Sunday of Easter C
(John 14:23-29)
May 9, 2010

ONE of the problems that a community, a company or a movement faces in the process of institutionalization is the prospect of the death of the founder. Sometimes it happens that the original vision of the founder is lost once a new one is installed. What he said and did are barely recalled and hardly influence the direction the community takes in a new situation. Usually, this does not happen to a democratic nation, because the Supreme Court is there to interpret the original vision enshrined in the constitution, but this does not prevent the new leader from revising the constitution. But this cannot happen in the Christian community that Jesus founded or it would be divided and lose it continuity with the divine source. Today’s Gospel shows us how it cannot.

Like the previous Sunday’s, today’s Gospel forms part of Jesus’ farewell discourses placed by John in the context of the last supper. Though, historically, these discourses could be understood in a situation wherein the community of John was expelled from the synagogue, yet they are meant to answer the problems spawned by Jesus’ physical departure from the disciples. Once Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, who will continue his teaching and work? Like any other historical person, Jesus could not have taught everything to his disciples, nor could he have, considering the circumstances of his death, done it completely. And even without adverting to Mark’s portrait of the disciples who frequently misunderstood Jesus, it was simply impossible for them, as historical persons, to understand everything he taught them. And there are other related problems. For instance, who will sustain the disciples in the aftermath of the shattering experience of Jesus’ death? Will his departure spell the end of the community?

It is on account of these problems that in John the supper discourses look beyond Jesus’ death to the resurrection. After his physical departure, Jesus will remain with the community of disciples through his spiritual presence: “I will ask the Father to give you another Paraclete—to be with you always” (John 14:16). The Spirit is thus none other than the spiritual presence of Jesus. Jesus is the first paraclete, and the Holy Spirit is another. Jesus and the Spirit resemble each other: both are sent by the Father (3:17, 4:26) both remain with the disciples (14:20; 14:17), and both guide them (14:16; 16:13). Moreover, even if the world of men and sin hates the community, they are assured of not falling into the lie and the devil, because the Spirit is a Spirit of Truth (14:17), who will guide them into all truth (16:13). Of the functions of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel mentions two of them: to teach all things, and to bring remembrance: “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you” (14:26).

Since Jesus is the once-and-for-all revelation of God (Heb 1:1), the Holy Spirit will not make any new revelations. That is not his work. Nothing is to be added to what has been revealed by God in the life and person of Jesus. Rather, it belongs to him to help—Paraclete means helper—the community understand the meaning of the words and actions of Jesus that up to the time of his death were obscure to the disciples. Thus, for example, it was only after the resurrection that they were able to understand the saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (1:19). In addition, what Jesus spoke of implicitly, the Spirit will make it explicit. He will enable the community to perceive the deeper meaning of Jesus’ teaching. Moreover, he will unfold new interpretations of what the early Jesus revealed to the community.

However, the Spirit uncovers not only new understanding and interpretation, but even application of God’s revelation in Jesus. In the community’s encounter with new problems that arise when faith is confronted with various situations, the Spirit will make a creative application of the gospel. That way, the community perceives the relevance of Jesus’ teaching to contemporary life. When the early Church, as related in the 1st Reading (Acts 7:55-60), faced the problem of circumcision vis-à-vis the admission of the Gentiles to the community, the resolution reached by the disputing parties at the Council of Jerusalem reflects the workings of the Holy Spirit: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours, too, not to lay on you any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary” (Acts 15:28). As a great Johannine commentator, Hoskyns, puts it, “the Spirit’s work is more than a reminiscence of the ipsissima verba of the Son of God; it is a living representation of all that he had spoken to his disciples, a creative exploitation of the gospel.”

By fulfilling his teaching function, the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus: “When the Paraclete comes… he will bear witness on my behalf” (John 15:26). He ensures, in other words, that, even if conditions and circumstances change, the identity and continuity of the truth that Jesus revealed to the first community is assured. What Jesus said, the Holy Spirit recreates and perpetuates. Hence, when the Church speaks on such issues as militarization, globalization, migration, etc. from ethical and doctrinal perspectives, one is assured that it is the same truth the disciples had heard that is being preached today. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church is guaranteed with the continuity of Jesus words and works, even without his physical presence.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Law for a New Order

Homily on the 5th Sunday of Easter
(John 13:31-35)
May 2, 2010

EVERY time a new president assumes office, he delivers an inaugural speech. In that speech, he normally gives us an inkling into a world of experience which he envisions for his country. “This nation can be great again,” intoned the late strongman, Ferdinand Marcos. Former President Joseph Estrada, for instance, is known for his “walang kamag-anak, walang kumpare, walang kaibigan,” meant to underline the pro-poor and pro-powerless stance of his administration, although almost everybody knows that this is not exactly what came off in the end. The current President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has her own vision, too, of good governance, transparency and option for the poor. Vision such as this is meant, among others, to define the society that a president tries to achieve. In pursuit of this, his lawmakers pass laws meant to regulate the relationships among the people in accord with the articulated vision.

We often say that Jesus came to establish a new order: the Kingdom of God. But what is to regulate this order? In his farewell discourse at the Last Supper, the Johannine Jesus gave his disciples a “new” commandment to govern the relationships among Christians: “Love one another” (John 13:34). This injunction is one of the mysteries that the Church liturgy celebrates on Holy Thursday. In fact, the first word in “Maundy Thursday” derives from the Latin term, mandatum, which is rendered “command” in English. Surprisingly, though, the injunction of love is rather ancient: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). In the synoptic gospels (Mark 12:28), Jesus is depicted as combining it with the Shemma (Deut 6:4) to specify the greatest commandment. But what is new in that law? Other interpreters and preachers argue that the commandment of love is new because, unlike the Old Testament injunction in which the standard of loving is the self (“as you love yourself”), in the New Testament, the norm of loving is the way Jesus loved (“as I have loved you”). Its newness flows from the way Jesus loved on the basis of which our love must be compared. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth.

To be sure, it may be well to recall that in the Old Testament, God established a covenant with Israel. The covenant entered into by the people of Israel with him may be summed up in the formula: “I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Jer 7:23b). In their response to that covenant through which they were constituted as his own people, redeemed from the slavery of Egypt, God gave them the law to observe. Now, by his whole life, but specially his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus initiated a new order. By his self-giving and rising to new life, he established the era of the new covenant. This teaching forms an integral part of the Last Supper tradition that finds a very explicit statement in Luke: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (Luke 22:20b). Which brings to mind Moses’ words in the ratification of the old covenant: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with these words of his” (Exod 24:8). And what is the place of the new commandment of love in this new covenant? Just as the Torah or the law served as the response of the people of Israel to the old covenant, so the commandment of love embodies the new response of the renewed community of God—the Church—to his redemptive offer of the new covenant in Jesus.

In effect, if the 613 commandments—not just 10, by the way—of God regulated the life of God’s people under the old covenant, so the command of brotherly love is the rule of life of the community of brothers and sisters in Jesus. It regulates the relationship among those who were born from the side of Jesus’ resurrection. In John, the most decisive, distinctive mark of Christian discipleship, which sets Christianity from other world religions or humanisms, is not so much doctrinal characteristics as fraternal love. “This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another” (John 13:35). It is also the Christian epiphany to the world. Christ is no longer physically present among us, but the evidence that he is alive is the love that fills up the Christian community. (Infrastructural projects are not an evidence of Christ’s presence in the parish.) And as such, the brotherly love injunction ceases to be a commandment. It really becomes a way of life that characterizes the community of disciples. It pervades the community, formed by individuals of new heart and new spirit, in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).*