24 April 2016
A young woman was about to get married when it was discovered that her brother had been diagnosed as having severe kidney problems. Without a speedy transplant he would die. Having consulted her boyfriend and family she decided to donate one of her kidneys to her brother. A number of her friends and relatives advised her not to do this. Some said that it might cause her problems later on especially when it came to having children. Also that it was a great risk and that being quite young she mightn’t live as long as she might do if she had two kidneys. But she was adamant. ‘I love my brother and am prepared to take the risk’. As a result of her self-sacrificing love her brother is still alive.
This young woman put into practice what Jesus commands us all to do in today’s gospel: ‘I give you a new commandment: Love one another just as I have loved you’. What is really new in this commandment? The Old Testament already had the commandment to love: ‘you must love your neighbour as yourself’. So is there any difference? Yes, there is: it is in the measuring standard of love. Whereas the Old Testament says ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, Jesus – in the New Testament – adds to it: … ‘just as I love you, you also must love one another’. So in the Old Testament the measuring standard is the love of oneself. In the New Testament (the time after Jesus when he made a new covenant or a new testament with us), the measuring standard for the love of neighbour is the love of Jesus himself. This puts the love of neighbour in a totally different class. Behind this new commandment is the love of Jesus himself. His love is the model and the measure of how we should love our neighbour. And at the same time it is the most typical characteristic of a disciple of Jesus.
What is typical of this love of Jesus? Firstly, it is a serving love. Jesus himself said ‘I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many’. Jesus summed up his whole life’s attitude in the humble act of washing his disciples’ feet, in serving, in stooping down. He stoops down to all that is weak especially the poor, the hungry, the sick, those whom society marginalises. He showed the attitude a true disciple of his must have in relation to women, to different ethnic or religious groups or to those whose skin colour is different etc. Jesus’ command to love is quite simple but very demanding.
Jesus’ love is a merciful, forgiving love, something which Pope Francis is emphasizing in a big way during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. He is not someone who came to seek revenge ‘Father, forgive them they do not know what they are doing’, he said on the cross as he prayed for his enemies. He came to witness to us who our Heavenly Father really is. He is not a God who seeks revenge when we sin, not a God who wants to punish us or send us to hell. Our own choices decide that – not God’s desire. God asks us to respond to his incredible love for us, not out of fear but because of gratitude by loving others.
The love of Jesus is a constant, dedicated love. He is not a moody God who one day is in good form and at another time is in bad humour, seeking to chastise us for our wrong doing.
Jesus’ love was a total lifelong commitment to love, service and forgiveness even when the going got very difficult. I know a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s disease who gave up his job in order to be constantly there at the service of his wife’s needs. It is a very demanding life for him now. But it reflects the true love that Jesus himself lived. This man – who does not profess belief in God – is living a godly life, a life of service and love. Going to Church, to Mass, praying rosaries, attending novenas are no guarantee of being a true disciple of Jesus unless they lead us to practise the kind of love Jesus himself lived whilst on earth.
Hopefully most of us do this daily in our family lives, in our homes even if we fail from time to time. The most important question is: is what I am doing now, in this relationship, in this work, in this leisure time an expression of the love Jesus asks me to live out daily? Or do my actions witness to a lack of love, a focus on my own selfishness etc. Jesus is not trying to frighten us or threaten us with punishment but he is saying that we and those we relate to will only have real peace and joy here and now by living his command to love. Putting it as simply as possible: ‘If you want to be truly happy here and now seek and work for the happiness and the peace of others. If you want to be unhappy, seek your own happiness and peace only’.
“Lord Jesus, it is not always easy to love as you did. It is hard to forgive those who hurt us. It is easier to be selfish at the expense of others. Help us to realise that we cannot do it alone. Give us your Holy Spirit and help us call more and more on this Holy Spirit to bring about your kingdom here on earth. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA