6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR B ON MAY 9, 2021 (R. 1: Acts 10: 25- 26, 34- 35, 44- 48; Psalm 98: 1, 2- 3, 3- 4; R. 2: 1 John 4: 7- 10; Gospel: John 15: 9- 17)
– REV FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
A NEW COMMANDMENT
Today’s Gospel passage continues from where we stopped last Sunday. It is part of the farewell speech of Jesus to his disciples. For many years, I questioned the choice of this passage in this season. These words were said by Jesus on Holy Thursday after washing the feet of his Apostles, shortly before his crucifixion and death. This is already over six weeks since Holy Thursday. Like some people would say, “Why can’t we just get over this and move on?” For many years, I felt this reading should not be read during the Easter Season. It was only shortly after my priestly ordination that I came to realize the suitability of this passage for this season. Jesus said those words as his last will and testament to his closest friends, companions, brothers and associates, the ones charged with the responsibility of carrying on with his mission here on earth. As you probably know, a person’s last will/testament becomes effective and more meaningful only after the death of the person (testator). This makes it suitable then for us to read the last will and testament of our Lord and Master now, six weeks after the events of the paschal mysteries (suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus).
The words that Jesus said at his Last Supper were very solemn. The words of a dying person must be taken seriously. When he asked us to wash the feet of one another, when he asked us to love one another as he has loved us, it was not a suggestion, it was not an opinion, and it was not an advice. He made it clear that it was a command. Hence he said, “This is my commandment…” It is therefore not open to negotiation. He did not ask us to like one another but to love one another. Sometimes, parishioners come to me feeling guilty that they don’t “like” another parishioner. I usually tell them not to worry as long as they love the parishioner in question. Jesus did not command us to like but to love. Ordinarily, we have no control over what or whom we like and so we deserve no praise for what or whom we like. But we have control over what or whom we love, and that is why there is reward for love. We like because of…, while we love in spite of… “Like” is what happens to us, while “Love” is what comes from us. We like people who present themselves as likeable, but in the case of love, there is no limit. We are commanded to love both the likeable and the unlikeable.
Jesus gave us a practical example before he gave the theory. While they were at Supper, he got up and began to wash the feet of his apostles, and when he was done, he told them to do the same to one another. One challenge with this command is that it does not give room for us to pick and choose; it has no boundary, it has no exception. But some feet can be very difficult to wash. This is not just about washing the feet of your infant child, which can be very cute; it goes beyond that. Yes, some feet are awfully stinky; some feet have been invaded by fungi; what do we do about such? That is what makes it very challenging and rewarding. We are commanded to wash the feet of one another even those that are awfully stinky. In fact, the more they stink, the more they deserve to be washed, and the more meritorious for us. You can imagine how difficult it was to wash the feet of Judas Iscariot, yet Jesus did it.
We have no excuse! On the cross, Jesus did not only ask for pardon for those who crucified him, he also defended them saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing?” So, as Christians, can a situation, or someone else’s evil ways be an excuse for us to disobey the command to love?
A monk went to the beach for his meditation. He saw a scorpion being carried away by the waves into the ocean. He bent down, and used his bare left hand to save the scorpion, but he was stung by the scorpion. As a reflex, he threw the scorpion back into the water, and nursed his finger. After that, he bent down again to pick the scorpion up, and he was stung for the second time. He threw the scorpion back into the ocean, nursed his finger, and went down for the third time, but he was still not spared by the scorpion. While he was going down for the fourth time to save the scorpion, a man who was watching him at a distance came to him and said, “Are you out of your mind! You attempted to save the scorpion three times, and it stung you three times, yet you are going down for the fourth time to rescue it.” The Monk said in reply, “It is the nature of the scorpion to sting, while it is the nature of the Monk to love. The scorpion can go on stinging, while the Monk must go on loving.”
My Dearly Beloved in Christ, I am not suggesting that you go in search of scorpions after this Mass. The point is that, you must not allow the bitterness of someone else to take away your sweetness. And as the song, Baila Baila goes, “You may have no power over what happens to you, but you have every power over your reaction.” May the love of God in us supersede the evil in the world, through Christ our Lord. Amen.