Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter year C 2013
I went to a retreat in the last couple of days with 30 others young adults, all leaders for the Victorian World Youth Day pilgrims in Millgrove. During the first night we had this activity called ‘getting to know you.’ We are asked questions that speak something about ourselves. One question was ‘If there is one person dead or alive you wanted to have dinner with, who would it be?’ I’m amazed of the answers. Obviously many chose the famous celebrities, like David Attenborough, or the Obamas in America or Keith Urban, or their dead grandfather, etc. However, not one in my group, myself included (how embarrassing) chose to have Jesus for dinner. I’m surprised and a bit ashamed of myself for not choosing Jesus. Fortunately, no one in my group dared to point it out to me otherwise I could have said ‘That’s my plan B.’ But as I reflect back on that activity, I said to myself: ‘It might just be for fun but it really reveals something of myself and also who or what other young people aspire to be in company with.’ I’m not going to tell you who I wanted to have dinner with as I answered the question that night, but to be honest with you, I didn’t choose Jesus.
Due to my Sunday commitments here with you I had to leave the retreat earlier. The retreat ends later today. I drove for three hours last night to get back home. It’s a long drive especially I’m on my own, but it made me think why didn’t I choose Jesus to have dinner with?
I found one reason from the gospel for today. In our gospel today from John (Jn 13:31-35), Jesus issued a challenge if you like, to his disciples. And if we read the text just before this gospel, Jesus threw the challenge during the last supper, during dinner, after Judas Iscariot had left.
This is one reason I can see now, why I didn’t say I want to have dinner with Jesus. It is because I don’t want to be challenged by him. I just wanted to enjoy the meal, to enjoy the company.
However, whether we like it or not Jesus is challenging us all today. And what is his challenge? Listen to what he said: ‘Love one another’. It sounds easy. We can do that. Anyone can do that. We might say: It’s not challenging! True, but there is more to this. Jesus added: ‘Just as have loved you, you must love one another.’ Here’s the rub. Jesus is commanding us (I give you a new commandment) to love one another the way he does.
To love one another like Jesus does, we need to have a look on how does Jesus ‘fall’ in love?
Firstly, He loves God, his Father so much. He is always obedient to his Father’s will. He always listens first to his Father in prayer and solitude for everything he does. He is so united with his Father in love and that gives him strength and power. The good news is that we are all invited to experience in ourselves this love between the Father and the Son. And we can make this happen in us, with the grace of God if we always allow God to be the source and the motivation of all the good things we do, if we listen always to Jesus and if we do whatever he tells us to do through the Church, through the Scriptures and through our Traditions.
Secondly, Jesus, our Lord and our God, loves us indiscriminately. He doesn’t look at us in terms of our nationalities, skin colour, social status, educational profile, etc. He loves us all the same no matter how sinful we think we are, no matter if we live in his love or not, no matter if we are loving or not, no matter if we reject his offer of love or not. The greatest proof of this is the Cross. If we want to see for ourselves how much God loves us, let us just contemplate on the mystery of the Cross.
Thirdly, Jesus loves his enemies. ‘Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’ (Lk 23:34) And he urges us to do the same. He said: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again’ (Lk 6:27ff). This is a new commandment indeed. And this is hard but it is not impossible. Jesus wasn’t only telling us this. He really showed it in his life. And we ought to follow him in this way. We need to understand though that to love someone doesn’t mean we have to like them. Loving is different from liking. This reminds me of a Vietnamese seminarian in the seminary with me. He was asked one dinnertime if he likes the food because he just filled his plate with the lot. He said: ‘I can eat everything, but it doesn’t mean I always like them.’ One thing I do to show that I love that someone even if I don’t like him or her (I might be a priest but I am human too you know) is to pray for the person regularly. I just said: ‘Lord, you know that I don’t like this person, but look after him/ her. Take care of him/her.’ I can attest that this prayer really works. It’s slowly becoming good.
So as we continue our celebration of the Mass today, I invite you to make two resolutions: First, invite Jesus to have dinner with you. This means allowing him to be there in all aspects of your life (family, workplace, community life, etc.) He might be throwing a challenge at us but he would also give us the strength and the power to face it. Second, let us resolve to be more loving by following the way Jesus loves us all. One way to do this is to imitate what Paul and Barnabas did in our First Reading today. ‘They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith’ (Acts 14:22). This is also our mission when we are baptized, to show that we love one another. This is an important mission because as Jesus would say to us now: [‘By] this love you have for one another everyone will know that you are my disciples’ (Jn 13:35).