Alleluia! My Lord and your Lord is alive and today we hear of how this announcement of the Resurrection was brought to all people. In Catholic Liturgy, we usually hear stories from the Hebrew Scriptures, but throughout the Easter Season, Acts of the Apostles, taken from the New Testament is proclaimed because in Christ a new message is announced.
Today, we hear of the end of the first of four missions the Great Apostle Paul undertook. In this First Mission, Paul experienced how John left to return to Jerusalem, Barnabas joined him as he preached the news of the living Christ to the Jewish people in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. Some came to believe and followed Paul as he preached how God worked throughout salvation history and revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Paul and Barnabas returned the following Sabbath and once again announced the Resurrection, but this time they were rejected. They turned to the Gentiles and announced the Resurrection to the them and they readily accepted the Gospel. Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra and in the name of Christ healed the crippled man who began to walk again. Yet, the healed man thought Paul was Zeus and began to give Paul animals for sacrifice. Paul doesn’t welcome this and explains how God looks beyond the ignorance of the Gentiles and calls them to conversion. Paul was stoned for preaching the Resurrection and surrounded by the apostles, got back on his feet and continued to preach. The reading today tells us how Paul and Barnabas retraced their tracks on this first of four missions and strengthened the spirit of the disciples by appointing religious leaders to this growing church.
What is the logic to why Paul and Barnabas were moved to travel hundreds of miles only to be abandoned by one companion, preach the Resurrection to many deaf ears, and stoned by the Gentiles? The logic must be love.
When Paul comes to his conversion, he must have heard the stories of Jesus’ apostles from the last supper which we hear today. Jesus doesn’t give a proposal or suggest an idea. He gives a directive and command. He says, “This is how all will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 31:35).
If you trace back to the Greek text of the Gospel of John, Jesus does not use the word we think he uses for love.
Jesus does not say phileō one another. Phileō is the love that comes as a response to the pleasure one finds in another. This love responds to kindness and affection.
Jesus does not say storgē one another. Storgē is a devoted love which is compounded with Phileō. This is the natural commitment one feels toward spouses, children, and faithful friends.
Jesus does not say eros one another. Eros is when one gives in order to receive something in return. When you see something that pleases you in another person, you are drawn to that person. Eros is deeply involved in emotion. When eros is rejected it can turn into bitterness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not tell us to love others as a response to kindness. He does not tell us to love each other because it is a natural familial commitment. Jesus does not tell us to love each other because we get something out of the other person. In today’s Gospel, John uses the word agapē. Agapē is the most noblest word for love in the Greek language. Agapē delights in giving. Agapē keeps on loving even when the recipient is unresponsive, unkind, unlovable, and unworthy. Agapē has a consuming passion for the well-being of the other. Agapē is godly love.
As believers in the Risen Christ we believe that God is love. Love is not God. In other words, God is our starting point and our origin. Saint Paul realized that in the midst of his sinful past, God loved him, and strengthened him for his ministry to announce that Christ lives and Saint Paul was charged to announce this to every corner of the known world. Saint Paul knew that to love one another means one thing: to announce that Christ lives.
God’s love is free, unearned, and unmerited. It is a free gift and it is up to us to accept or decline such a gift. The consequence to accepting such a love is that we must love each other in the most noblest of all ways. We must love those who are unresponsive to us, unkind to us, and unlovable to the sight of many. We love them not for our sake, but for the hope that they may encounter and know love himself.
To love someone today and to never announce to them who Jesus Christ is could possibly be the most selfish and the most emptiest gift we can give to a human being. Ask God to foster this deep sense of agapē in you for all of us are in various stages in our capacity to love. All love must be directed and transformed into agapē. In other words, at the end of life we will all find ourselves at one place – the cross. It is there where find shameless love on full display.
Still not convinced? That’s ok. Because you do not need to be convinced. You only need to be receptive. For Catholics, we are not talking about lofty ideas of love, images of love, feelings of love. Love for us, agapē for us is a reality fully experienced, fully known, fully realized, fully felt — in gifts that become his body and blood. This is the source where we find the grace to love as Christ has loved us.
Alleluia! My Lord and your Lord is alive. Hear, see, and believe with eyes of faith that this body and blood which we are about to receive is love himself. And in eating his flesh and drinking his blood we do the most logical thing in life. We allow God to become the arsonist of our hearts.