Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Church--A Community of Lovers

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B, John 15:9-17, May 13, 2012

IN LAST SUNDAY’S Gospel (John 15:1-8), we draw an ecclesiological implication of the parable on the vine and the branches, namely, the principle of unity. We noted that in the Church, the one that binds the members to the head and to one another is a person—Christ himself, unlike in government and other organizations where law and authority gather the members into one. In the Church, he dwells in the members, even as the members dwell in him; there is a mutual indwelling: “Live on in me, as I do in you… I am the vine, you are the branches… A man who does not live in me is like a withered, rejected branch, picked up to be thrown in the fire and burnt” (John 15:4a.5a.6). From today’s Gospel (John 15:9-17), one may draw a theme that continues the ecclesiological implication of last Sunday’s. It could be taken as answering the question: how do we know that we remain or live on in Christ?

If we ask the question, “what is the evidence that one is an Israeli?” probably one will say, “his citizenship, which is printed in his passport.” The evidence that one is a lawyer is his membership in the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. But what is one to show that he is a Christian? Time was when one can easily distinguish a Catholic from a Protestant, since the latter was identified with the Bible, whereas the former was associated with the Rosary or devotion to Mary. But neither the Bible nor the devotion to Mary gives testimony to one’s being Christian, even though to be one, he ultimately has to have both. According to the Gospel reading, our abiding in Christ is validated by love. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Live on in my love. You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and live in his love,… The command I give you is this, that you love one another” (John 15:9-10.17).

But we should take a special note about this love. This love is not our feeling for Jesus, or our good disposition toward other members of the Church. It is not even our effort, however heroic, to serve the community. Rather, this love results from chain of loving that begins with God the Father himself. First of all, the Father loves Jesus; then Jesus loves the disciple; and finally, the community members love one another. It is not, then, a question of our own love. It is rather about divine love itself. We love the brothers with the love that, through his resurrection, we share with the Lord, whose love comes from the Father. And the greatest love one can exhibit in the community is love unto death. This is the love which Jesus had for us, and we are to imitate this love in the community of brothers. “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). John expresses this different in his letter: “The way we come to understand love was that he laid down his life for us; we too must lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Today’s gospel, then, makes precise what was initially described in last Sunday’s. In the latter, it was noted that what primarily unites the community is not law, but Jesus himself, for the Church is not first and foremost a legal society. Ours is not a religion of the code, even though law has a place in it. We do not call one a Christian simply because he perfectly obeys the Ten Commandments of Moses and the Five Commandments of the Church, although if one is a Christian, his religion will include both. On the contrary, it is first of all a community of personal relationships, whose center is Christ, the one who makes it one community. It is a community where there is a mutual indwelling: Christ abides in the members, and the members abide in Christ. In the Gospel reading today, John adds a precisely description of that indwelling: it is an indwelling of love. In the Church, the members allow themselves to be loved by Jesus who himself is the bearer of the Father’s love. With this transforming love of Jesus they love one another.

The Church, therefore, is a community of lovers, of disciples who abide in the love of Jesus. Their love for Jesus is evidenced in their laying down of their lives for the members of the community. It is through this love that we know one abides in Christ. This implies, of course, that abiding in Christ and loving one’s fellow members cannot be separated. The one who abides in Christ is one who loves the members of the community, and one who loves necessarily believes in Christ who sustains him. One cannot love without being a believer.

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