5th Sunday after Pentecost
On the eve of His Sacred Passion, Our Blessed Lord gave this command to His disciples: Love one another as I have loved you. In this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34-35).
Today’s Gospel gives us one of the more well known passages in which the practical living out of that commandment is prescribed. “If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift” (Mt 5:23-24). Tonight at the Magnificat antiphon, this text is put to the most expressive chant as it depicts Our Lord raising His voice at the words: Leave thy offering before the altar, to then continue in a subdued tone go first to be reconciled to thy brother, as if to stress the unbecoming gesture of the Christian coming to the altar of God to make his offering, while being at odds with his own brother, and the required humility and meekness with which we must act.
God does not want your gift, He wants you, and if you are not able to forgive your brother or sister whatever they may have done to offend you, in word or in deed, then you cannot offer yourself to God and therefore that gift you bring is useless. How is this? Quite simply because, as Saint Augustine says, “love alone puts the difference between the children of God and the children of the devil. Let them all sign themselves with the sign of the cross of Christ; let them all respond, Amen; let all sing Alleluia; let all be baptized, let all come to church, let all build the walls of churches: there is no discerning of the children of God from the children of the devil, but only by charity. They that have charity are born of God: they that have it not, are not born of God. A mighty token, a mighty distinction! Have what you will; if this alone you have not, it profits you nothing: other things if you have not, have this, and you have fulfilled the law. For he that loves another has fulfilled the law, says the apostle: and, Charity is the fulfilling of the law.” (Homilies on the First Epistle of St John, 5, 7).
Indeed, there is only one love. Love of God and love of neighbour are not two different entities. They are essentially the same, and they are mutually inclusive. To exclude one of them is to exclude the other. To exclude the brother or the sister is to exclude God Himself from our life. Such is the sign that the Lord gives us and by which we must be conspicuous in the eyes of the world.
In today’s epistle, St Peter illustrates one of the consequences of this fraternal charity. “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble: not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pt 3:8-9). Not rendering evil for evil, but rather good. Render good for evil. If you are cursed, bless. If you are cheated and if no one else but yourself is going to be harmed by it, do not demand justice. Justice is a great virtue, but mercy surpasses justice and brings it to its perfection. That is why in the Old Testament there was the jubilee year on the occasion of which all debts were cancelled and all captives set free. This was done as a sign of God’s dealing with us. If God chose to stand by the demands of His justice, we would all be damned to hell. But He chose to manifest His omnipotence by showing mercy and surpassing the demands of justice. And so must we if we are to be imitators of God.
It’s a beautiful program that cannot fail to inspire, but at the same time, it can make us tremble, for we know by experience how hard it sometimes is to show mercy when we want to demand justice and punishment. And God knows how vicious our age can be when it comes to chastising those who disagree with us. And this is why we are given the magnificent oration of this Sunday’s Mass in which we ask: O God, who hast prepared for those who love Thee such good things as eye hath not seen; pour into our hearts such love towards Thee, that loving Thee above all things, we may obtain Thy promises which exceed all that we can desire.
God does not desire to give us any created reward, no lovely creature to captivate our itching for joy and pleasure. No, He desires to give Himself who alone surpasses all that we can desire. But to be worthy of that ineffable gift, we have to become God-like, we have to imitate God, the only God, God Incarnate who walked this earth of ours, going about doing good, reconciling sinners and paying Himself the price that was theirs.
We will never remind ourselves too frequently of the fact that Christianity is not a human attempt to do something pleasing to God. It is God Himself who steps into our history to show us the path that leads to Him. Is it any surprise that His ways startle us, jolting us out of our entrenched habits and mindset? Let’s let ourselves be tamed by the example of the Lord. Let’s learn how to turn the other cheek. Let’s make each Christian community one in which love for each other is so conspicuous that, like the early pagans the people around us will look at us stupefied and say: “Look how they love one another”.
The old apostle St John, whenever asked to teach the brethren, would simply repeat: “My little children, love one another”. The disciples, after a while, asked him why he always said the same thing over and over again. His only reply was: “Because it is the command of the Lord. If it alone is done, it is enough”.
Si solum fiat, sufficit. If only it is done. If only we can get out of our little inside tower of ivory and open up to the needs of our neighbour, that is enough. How is it enough? It is enough because there is only one love. If you love the neighbour you can see, you love the God you cannot see. God makes Himself visible in that brother, in that sister, whatever their failings, whatever their weakness.
What you did to the least of my brethren, you did to me. (Mt 25:40)
If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, so you should wash one another’s feet. (Jn 13:14)
In this will all men know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another. (Jn 13:34-35)