Each Sunday after Easter is quite unique because each of the Sundays present to us a very different theme and challenge. Today is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The main theme of today’s readings is: Jesus’ disciples are recognised by the people around them because they follow his commandment of love.
In the last few weeks, Australia has been going through an important process of an election campaign. We have been bombarded with slogans on our television channels and mail advertisements, regarding the different policies or political opinions between various candidates. I do sometimes wonder whether people with different points of view can sit down and talk peacefully to one another. And, is our gospel’s message of this Sunday finding a place in the midst of Australians during this time?
Jesus says in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” (Jn. 13:34). This message of Jesus was shared among John’s community where the community was struggling between Judaism and the new Christian movement. People were trying to carry forward the tradition that they received into the new context. Ordinarily, in Jesus’s time, people understood the word ‘neighbour’ in a very limited sense such as the people that are related to or live within the community. But for Jesus, ‘neighbour’ is to include any individual who is in need of help, who may hold different views, or who may disagree with us in certain perspectives of life. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a classic example of Jesus inviting his followers into a new understanding of the word ‘neighbour’ – Every person in need, whether he lives next door or a town away, whether they are young or old, whether they are different to our faith or traditions. They are our neighbour.
Jesus gives us this new commandment that we should love one another. In a deeper sense of this commandment, there is an invitation to step into the shoes of and to understand others, not to condemn them. Jesus asks his disciples to use as the measure of loving people – the love they have for themselves. They are to treat others as their own flesh and bone.
We are called by Jesus to do the same thing, that is, to love one another neither because he or she is ‘one of us’ nor because he or she shares our common values. No. But despite these things, he or she deserves the same treatment that we would give to our own family members and friends.
The message of love encourages us to find new ways, to open another door to welcome others into our lives, to meet them where they are, and to consider the complexities of people’s lives. In addition, the church in its own journey cannot separate from its current society and climate. The church must help all the faithful, and people in every state of life to know that even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love.
A little bit of love makes the world less cold and more just, especially in the election year.
By Fr Trac Nguyen