Some of the most profound sayings of Jesus are memorable not because they are exquisitely complicated, but precisely because they are disarmingly simple. Today’s brief Gospel excerpt from John has that admirable quality. Only seven italicized words below from the total of fifty-seven words in that selection have more than one syllable! Yet, by entering reflectively into the spell of these simple interwoven words, we are pulled into a loving embrace by God where we can experience peace and joy.
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” Everything in these two sentences describes an incredible gift. Jesus loves us with the love he received from the heavenly Father. What have we done to deserve this? Be still! Jesus is not talking about deserving but receiving. “I love you…remain in my love.” Doesn’t sound like much struggle here. Accept the love coming at you. How could that be hard?
Ah, but we sinners always expect a hook, a trick. Here it comes, that big word with three syllables in that next phrase. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” So let us get this straight. God loves us in Jesus. Then Jesus invites us to remain in this relationship. God romances us, but then reminds us that if our love is to be truly genuine, it will seek to reflect the values which the commandments of the Old and New Testaments have offered to believers for millennia. The order is important, first divine love is given, and then our faithful response is expected because it shows we mean what we say about living in love with God.
‘Challenging’ might be the word that comes to mind as we reflect on a lifetime of attempts to follow the commandments with our multiple failures and occasional successes. But it is very instructive that the final multi-syllable word from Jesus today is not challenge. Rather, it concerns Jesus’ desire that our lives be joyful. “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” Amazing what a few little words from Jesus can do for us when we might be weary in spirit!
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).