today's readings are Acts 14: 21-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21: 1-5; and John 13: 1, 31-35
When I was seminarian, part of our formation programme involved placements in various pastoral settings. In my 2nd year, I had the opportunity to be a student chaplain in the Urology ward of Sick Children’s Hospital. Part of my duties included visiting with the kids and their parents. On my first day, while visiting a room, I was chatting with one of the nurses, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a roll-away bed stashed away in the corner. When I asked her why it was there, the nurse told me that virtually every room had one or two beds tucked away. For what reason? So that the parents of the young patients could spend the night sleeping beside their child. When I expressed surprise at this, the nurse told me that this was quite common – in fact, a lot of the parents, would spend day and night, for weeks at a time, just being with their children as they were being treated at the hospital. As proof, the nurse took me to the next room where there was a young mother quietly sitting beside the bed of her 7-year-old son. As I got talking to the mother, I asked her if she frequently used the roll-away bed. She replied that in fact, yes, she had been there 11 straight nights. When I expressed my admiration at this, she brushed my comment aside by simply responding, “Of course I am here with him – he needs me – I’m his mother – and I love him – I love him”.
In today’s gospel Jesus says that he gives us a new commandment - to love one another. However, at first glance, there’s nothing new about that commandment. For example, we read the same commandment in the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. As well, the ancient oriental religions of Buddhism and Hinduism had this commandment long before Jesus spoke it. So what was new about this commandment? Not that we had to love one another – but that we had to do so just as he, Jesus, loved each one of us.
Let’s focus for a few moments on Jesus’ use of the word love. This word has become overused in English – for example, it can mean how one can feel about someone else, but it can also be used to describe how one feels about their favourite food or movie. Now, in the Greek language, in which the New Testament is written, there are 7 different words for love. For example, eros, which is romantic, passionate love; or else philia, which is brotherly love, the love shared by close friends; and then there is agape. Agape is a love that is given freely, fully, and from the heart. A love that is incredibly profoundly self-giving and yet simple, a love that is given unconditionally, without any restrictions. So when Jesus say that we should love one another as He did for us, He is referring to agape type of love. That was Jesus’ commandment – to love each other without conditions, without expecting anything in return – to simply just love. That was exactly what the young mother of my story earlier was doing – loving, in this case, her son, without condition, without counting the cost. She was loving just like Jesus did. She was loving just as any disciple of Jesus is called to do.
Many people would say that Jesus’ call to love one another with that agape kind of love is an ideal that very few of us could ever attain. I would beg to disagree. For I have witnessed it in so many circumstances and situations in my own life, in my own priesthood. I have seen the example of countless parents like that mother whom I encountered at Sick Kids. I have seen wives and husbands visit their sick spouses in the hospital day after day. I have seen people set aside the silliness of family feuds and be reconciled. I have seen teenagers stand up on behalf of someone in their school who is being repeatedly bullied. I have seen business executives carry out their duties and responsibilities with compassion and dignity, rather than trampling over their co-workers and staff members. In all these cases, and in so many more, I have seen people put into action Jesus’ command “To love one another”.
In our second reading from the Book of Revelation we hear of St. John’s vision of a new heaven and new earth, and in which the One, Jesus, makes all things new. Now just imagine would happen if we consistently loved one another as Jesus did. The changes that would happen – in our lives, our families, our communities, our schools, our workplaces. Talk about making all things new – now wouldn’t that be a new earth – and a bit of a glimpse of that new heaven.