Thank you for all of your prayers last week! I had a very blessed retreat.
Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C
I would dare to say that most of you know what self-sacrificial love looks like. This is because most of us have had opportunities to exercise this type of love in our lives. Parents know that, to give their children the best opportunities in this world, they have to make sacrifice after sacrifice: both in little things and in big things. Married men and women know that, to give their wife or husband the happiness they deserve, they, too, have to make sacrifice after sacrifice: again, both in little things and in big things (and they recognize it even when they fail to do it… and sometimes especially when they fail to do it… am I right?). Best friends, too, know that they show their love the most when they make sacrifices for each other.
Now these sacrifices of self are called love because they are made for the good of the other and not for the good of the one making the sacrifice —purely because the one making the sacrifice desires the good of the other. Although we often look at this type of love as heroic, the fact of the matter is that it is quite natural for us. When we feel an affinity for or with someone, we become willing to suffer many things for them.
As Christians, however, we are called to take this kind of love to the next level. We are asked to love everyone—including those with whom we may have no connection—and we’re called to love them as if they were our wife, our son, or our best friend. This is a new kind of love: a love that goes beyond our natural inclinations—beyond, at least, our natural inclinations weakened by sin. A love, therefore, that is super-natural.
The apostles Paul and Barnabas show us an example of this kind of super-natural love in our first reading today. To see this we must first take a closer look at a part of the reading that we might just ignore if we didn’t know the context. The reading opens by saying: “After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.” “That city” is Derbe, which is the place that Paul and Barnabas went to after they had been driven from Lystra, which was the city to which they went after they had been driven out of Iconium. The Scriptures tell us that the Jews and Gentiles in Iconium plotted to stone Paul and Barnabas, but that they discovered the plot and fled to Lystra. While they proclaimed the Good News there, Jews from Iconium showed up, stirred up the crowds, and actually succeeded in stoning Paul; after which they dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead. He wasn’t dead, but the next day they left Lystra for Derbe to proclaim the Good News there.
Now, doesn’t that first line seem much more significant? “They returned to Lystra and to Iconium…” They returned to the very place where the people wanted them dead! And why? The Scriptures don’t say it plainly, but I believe it is because of the love that they had for the people of those cities. These were not people that they knew. Rather, they were people who needed to receive the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ and Paul and Barnabas would not be stopped until the people of these cities received this Good News. Their efforts were of no benefit to themselves—the Scriptures show us that it brought them nothing but death threats. Rather, they were purely for the benefit of those who received them: the sign of true self-sacrificial love on the super-natural level.
This kind of super-natural love is kind of love that Jesus commands for his disciples when he gives them the “new commandment” to love one another. And just to be sure that his disciples knew that he meant something more than our natural ability to love one another, he followed this command by saying “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another”. And what was Jesus’ super-natural act of love? The cross, of course. There, he handed over his life completely for everyone—everyone who ever existed, everyone who existed then or exists now, and everyone who will ever exist—regardless of whether they accept him or not. And he did it not for any benefit that he would gain for himself—he is the Son of God, he has no need of anything—but rather for the benefit of everyone else, simply because he desired it for them… for us. This is the same super-natural love that led Paul and Barnabas, filled with the Holy Spirit, back into Lystra and Iconium; and this is the same super-natural love that we are still called to offer in our own lives today.
A couple of years ago, Penn Jillette (one half of the comedy duo “Penn & Teller” and an avowed atheist) recorded a little video describing how a man approached him after a show and gave him a little book of the New Testement and Psalms. He said that he appreciated it. As an atheist, he was promoting proselytizing because, he says, it seems to be a logical consequence of belief and of being a good person. “How much do you have to hate somebody,” he said, “to believe that everlasting life is possible and then not tell them [about it]?” I dare say that it is a challenging question to us all. Perhaps we can stretch what he is saying a bit to say that, if you truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for our sins but now lives eternally and that those who believe in him will have eternal life, then you do not yet have super-natural love within you—the love that Jesus commanded his disciples to have—if you do not strive to share this Good News with everyone you encounter who has either not yet heard it or has heard it but does not yet believe.
And I think that this is true. I’m glad that these readings come to us today, during this Easter season, because they remind us that Easter isn’t just about “alleluias”, but that it’s also about inspiring our apostolate: that is, how we live as apostles—those sent to proclaim this Good News. Here in the Eucharist, we encounter the super-natural love of Jesus—the re-presentation of the sacrifice of his body and blood for us—and in the dismissal at the end of Mass, we are sent to go from here and to give that love to everyone around us. Therefore, let us not allow our celebration here to be empty. Rather, let us ask in this Eucharist for the grace to go forth from here with hearts full of love—true super-natural love—ready to sacrifice our own lives so that others may receive this Good News and live.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 24th, 2016