Sixth Sunday in Easter

Sixth Sunday in Easter

Deacon Blaine Barclay

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments”.  What is the relationship between love and law, between a self-donating love, and keeping the commandments; between love and obedience to the moral law?  I am afraid, that sometimes we see love and obedience as opposites.  This is because we see obedience as doing what we are told, as conformity to an external rule.  In this view of things, the moral law, and religion itself, become a matter of coloring between the lines, so to speak, having more to do with strategic conformity to external rules than to authentic conversion of heart and lifestyle.

So how are we to really hear what Jesus is saying to us today? ’’If you love me you will keep my commandments?’’.  Other translations say, “obey my commandments”. The word translated here as ‘obey’ or ‘keep’ has a rich range of meaning.  It means variously, to watch over, to guard, holds fast, properly maintain, held or kept in custody, to attend to carefully, take care of, stand firm in.  The Greek word invites us into a docility, an openness to be measured by the Word of God.  This kind of ‘keeping’ is very Marian.  Our Lady was so radically open to the demands of the Word that the Word became flesh in her. ’’Let it be done to me according to your word’’, says Mary in her radical availability, not just to hear this word from God, but to do it.  Mary is for us the prime example, the Prototype, of what it means to be a disciple, to love Jesus; to enter into right relationship with the Lord.

This same theme of ‘loving and keeping’ is found elsewhere in scripture.  St. Paul, for example, says, ’’Love is the fulfillment of the law’’. ’’The whole law is fulfilled in one word…Love’’. ’’The one who loves their neighbor has fulfilled the law’’.  Again, to paraphrase a longer passage by St. Paul, ’’Against love there is no law’’.  Saint Augustine of Hippo famously echoes St. Paul when he writes,  “Love and do what you will”.

Jesus himself elsewhere teaches; ’’if a person loves me they will keep my word’’. ’’If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love’’.  Jesus also tells us that, his “commandments are not burdensome’’, that his “Yoke is be easy and his burden is light’’.  There is a great simplicity  here when he adds, ’’This is my commandment, that to love one another as I have love you’’.  Here lies the infinite measure, ’the love he has for us’.  As St. John’s first letter says, ’’We love God because God first loved us”.  Our ‘love’, our ‘keeping’, our ‘obedience’ to his word’ is always ‘response’ to a love already given, already, ’poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’.  As such it is not a matter of ’if I am obedient, follow the rules, do what I am told, learn how to color between the lines, then God will love me.  Each one of us is always already loved, right down to the bottom of who we are.  Loved into existence, loved into being called, loved into loves keeping.  ‘Kept by love, in loves safe keeping, still we abide’.

Are we thereby tempted by despair?  How can I measure up to this measureless love?  How can I love with a love that takes the form of the cross?  In short, I cannot.  This is why he promises us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the cheer leader, the one who encourages, urges us on and provides us with the courage and power to live the Christian life, the disciplines of discipleship.

On this our pilgrim journey we will sometimes experience the absence of God, but we live by his promises. ’’I will not leave you orphaned’’.  ‘In our hearts the spirit of adoption cries out, ’Abba Father’.  Ours is the obedience, the keeping, the loving fidelity of the adopted children of a loving Father.  Standing in the obedience of the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit, this is our yes to God. ’’If you love me you will keep my commandments’’.  “Let it be done to me according to your word’’.