Today, a phrase in the first reading stands out and connects with last week’s readings about the Good Shepherd: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”
The Good Shepherd is one who suffers. He is willing to lay down His life for His sheep. If we want to be Jesus’ followers, we are invited to take up our cross and follow in His footsteps.
Jesus was persecuted because the Jewish leaders were jealous of Him. They accused Him of being a blasphemer. His teaching didn’t fit in with their preconceived notions of what the Messiah must be. So, they turned Him over to the Romans who gladly crucified Him.
He was a threat to the status quo of the religious leaders and the power of the Roman government. After Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, persecution of the Church became the law of the Roman Empire. Christians were “different” – their faith in Jesus Christ was so radical and so fundamental that they were willing to die if necessary for their Faith. That same kind of Faith has enabled martyrs throughout history to lay down their lives for the sake of the Kingdom of God as Paul predicted in the First Reading.
Today, Christianity is still a threat to the society in which we live. People and nations do not want to be reminded of the moral teachings of Jesus much less be told to live according to those teachings. People and nations feel comfortable with the status quo with the established customs or ways of doing things.
People and nations do not want to be threatened by having to change how they think or how they act – yet Jesus, in today’s Gospel (on the eve of His death), says: “I give you a new commandment – love one another!” He proclaims the absolute dignity of each person. He commands us to act toward one another as He has acted toward us through His Cross.
If the Lord loves, forgives, understands, and reconciles, then we also are commanded to love, forgive, understand, and reconcile. Love one another as I have loved you!” This is not a suggestion – it is a command.
Love demands sacrifice: Love demands decision!
Love demands death to self: Love demands suffering:
Suffering is a part of love. Suffering comes to all of us in one way or another. It comes in our own illness and death. It comes in the illness and deaths of those we are close to. It comes when family members or friends are in pain.
In his teaching on suffering, St. Paul says that if we aren’t suffering, we better examine our conscience! Something is wrong if we aren’t suffering in union with Jesus on the Cross. If we aren’t suffering, perhaps it’s a sign that we aren’t living our Faith very well – we’re not loving one another enough! The kind of love Jesus commands in today’s Gospel is not something physical or emotional that comes – and – goes according to our moods and feelings.
The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is the “radical love” that brought Him to the Cross. That kind of love has the power to transform us and give us the ability to survive all the trials and tribulations which come our way.
Saint John tells us in our reading from the Book of Revelation, that if we take seriously Jesus’ command to love, then we will one day enter into the “new Jerusalem – the Kingdom of our Father in heaven” and rejoice forever where “Our tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” And we shall see God face – to – face.”
The outstretched arms of Jesus on the Cross, are the invitation for each one of us to imitate how He lived His life in: relating to other people and nations and how He gathers us and leads us to the House of our Father.
With God’s grace, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can fulfill this command. We can learn the true meaning of “love of neighbor”. We can learn to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – even fundamental extremists who fly planes into buildings or place bombs at finish-lines in athletic events; Syrian leaders who murder their own people with seron gas, and Egyptian police joining Muslim protesters attacking and murdering Christians.
We can reach out to the poor, the downtrodden, and those who are not only in physical prisons but also those who have become prisoners of their personal addictions and mental conditions.
Jesus reminds us today, that the commandment to love is to be followed at all times: “This is how all will know that you are My disciples; your love for one another”. In our age, Jesus is either not known or not believed. He may be talked about – dozens of books have been written about Him and hours of television and radio programming may be devoted to Him, but in practical terms, how He lived and died, and what He taught have little impact on the course of world events.
We – the twenty-first-century followers of Christ – are called upon to be the sign of Christ’s presence in the world. Through us, and through the crosses we must all bear, and all the insults and persecutions thrown at His Church, Jesus will fulfill His prophecy: “See, I will make all things new.”