Lectio divina for this Sunday’s readings, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

Mutual But Asymmetric Love

Paris,  May 08, 2015  (ZENIT.org)  Monsignor Francesco Follo 


1) Love is the gift of themselves without reserve.

“God is love” and this love is the center of the Christian faith. This is the great revelation that is at the center of the two texts of John (1 Jn 4.7 to 10; Jn 15.9 to 17) that are proposed by the Liturgy of the sixth Sunday of Easter “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God abides in him “(1 Jn 4:16) and bears fruit. He carries Christ and his joy.

Today’s liturgy invites us to follow an inner exodus (out of themselves through the interior of themselves, as some of the Fathers of the Church say), becoming pilgrims of Love through the prayer of a listening heart, leaving behind the many superfluous things that might cause us to lose the essential: God and his love.

The commandment of love – that opens (v. 12) and (v. 17) closes the Gospel passage of this Sunday- finds in Jesus his reason. The reason for this love is the fact that we love each other because He first loved us, “As I have loved you … love one another.”

With the command of love, besides revealing himself as the reason (logos) of Love, the Son of God proposes himself as the model, rule, source and measureof it “As I have loved you.”

As a model, because He gives us the example of a life given for love so that we can be like him living mutual love, embracing each other and practicing mercy.

As a rule, because Christ is proposed as the Way. To undertake this Way does not mean to make a journey towards something, but to go with Somebody, to follow a personal journey marked by the logic of the cross.

As a source, because, aware that without Him we can do nothing, we draw from him the grace to love and to know how to donate ourselves to give life not only like him, but with him.

As a disproportionate measure, because He teaches us that in true love there is no measure to the gift of self. “The charity of Christ, received with an open heart, changes us, transforms us, makes us able to love not according to human measure, always limited, but according to the measure of God. What is the measure of God? Without measure! The measure of God is without measure” (Pope Francis).

2) The new name of the disciples: FRIENDS.

As a logical statement “As I have loved you” we would have expected a sentence like this “So you love me.” Instead, Jesus tells his disciples to love one another “Love one another.” Christ “commands” to his disciples a love which tends to reciprocity. Of course if this love wants to look like that of Christ, it must be born from a gratuitous gift. In the love of Jesus the dimension of gratuitous gift is critical and even our love must have it. The love of Jesus does not want to own the disciple. The Savior invites us to love one another “Love one another”, because true love is missionary and fruitful. Christ pushes to an exodus of love that sends toward others. It is in offering love to our brothers and sisters that we returns Jesus’ love.

The other is an inevitable grace that, if we welcome it, matures our heart expanding it. The other, welcomed by me, proclaims in me the victory of love.

The love of Jesus, reason, model, norm, source and measure of love toward each other, is a love of friendship, therefore a relationship of trust between people and a fraternal dialogue.

At least three are the characteristics of this bond of friendship: total dedication (“No love is greater than he who gives his life for his friends”); confidant familiarity (“I’ve told everything I have heard from my Father”); vocational choice that is free predilection (“You did not choose me, but I chose you).

As recipients of this predilection, the disciples are “elevated” to the rank of friends that did and experienced the love of Christ, who said and put into practice this statement “There is no greater love than to give life for his friends “. What does this mean? Quite simply it means that we are included in the charity of Christ’s Heart. It means that we are loved by Christ and that if love is an exodus from oneself, to understand its needs we have to get out of ourselves and put us in the Heart of the Lord and then ask ourselves how He loves us and what He expects from us. The commandment of love implies the “need” to want for us the good that He has for us, and the duty to love ourselves and to love others as He loves them.

3) Mutual love: friendship.

Speaking of friendship, Jesus insists on reciprocity of love. Indeed how is friendship indistinguishable from love? Friendship is mutual love. According to St. Augustine there is no friendship without reciprocity, which is not assessment because in true friendship there is no pretense. In fact, as model and foundation of the mutual love that is friendship, Christ places the “as I have loved you”, that is the Cross, therefore gratuitous gift.

Christian reciprocity is born from gratuitousness, which doesn’t mean “performance unpaid, done for no reason”, but made with the biggest motivation: love.

Christian love is reciprocal, but asymmetric: the giving and receiving are not on the same level. The reciprocity of the Gospel is not mere exchange. What characterizes it, is the gratuitousness that is the truth of God’s love, and at the same time the truth of our love. Love – that of God as that of men – tends to reciprocity: it builds it. But reciprocity is not its root nor its extent. If you love only to the extent in which you are returned, yours is not true love. And if you love only to the extent that you give, you do not feel truly loved. Only those who understand this native, original gratuity of love, is able to understand God and himself. The human being, image and likeness of God, is made to donate himself totally and freely. In being gratuitous, he finds the truth of himself and manifests his being “God’s image”.

An example of how to live this love –mutual and asymmetric- comes from the consecrated Virgins in the world.

This example is born from charity, regular observance and availability to serve the Church that is the Body of Christ.  From charity, then, comes the imitation. “If we truly love, we imitate, we cannot make a better fruit of love than showing the example of imitation “(Saint Augustine, Sermon 304, 3, 2). For this reason Saint Augustine urges particularly the consecrated Virgins to climb up the degree of the beatitudes, imitating in each of them the corresponding virtues of Christ. “Blessed are the poor in spirit! Imitate the one who, being rich, became poor for you (cf. 2 Cor 8, 9). Blessed are the meek! Imitate him who said “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29) … Imitate him who said “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me” (Jn 4, 34) … Blessed are the pure in heart! Imitate him who did no sin, on whose mouth no deceit was found (1 Pt 2:22). Blessed are the peacemakers! Imitate him who prayed for his executioners “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do “(Lk 23, 34). Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake! Imitate him who suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you should follow in his footsteps (1 Pet 2: 21). Those who imitate the Lamb in these virtues, follow in these same footsteps “(St. Augustine, De S. Virg. 28, 28). The consecrated Virgins follow, namely they mimic the Lamb in the splendor of virginity. “Now therefore  – St. Augustine tells them – follow the Lamb keeping with perseverance what you have consecrated to Him with ardor” (ibid, 29, 29).

The consecrated virgins testify that the foundation of friendship is the love of God to which they are totally consecrated. St. Augustine says: ” Truly loves his friend the one who loves God or because God is in him or because he is in Him” (Sermon 3, 6, 2). It follows that true friendship is what God has knotted with his grace. “There is no true friendship – writes the great saint in his Confessions – except when you knot it among the people close to you in the bond of love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Conf. 4 , 4.7).

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustin of Hyppo, (354 -430)

Tractate LXXXV.

On Jn 15,14-15.

1. When the Lord Jesus had commended the love which He manifested toward us in dying for us, and had said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He added, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” What great condescension! when one cannot even be a good servant unless he do his lord’s commandments; the very means, which only prove men to be good servants, He wished to be those whereby His friends should be known. But the condescension, as I have termed it, is this, that the Lord condescends to call those His friends whom He knows to be His servants. For, to let us know that it is the duty of servants to yield obedience to their master’s commands, He actually in another place reproaches those who are servants, by saying, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?”1 Accordingly, when ye say Lord, prove what you say by doing my commandments. Is it not to the obedient servant that He is yet one day to say, “Well done, thou good servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”?2 One, therefore, who is a good servant, can be both servant and friend.

2. But let us mark what follows. “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.” How, then are we to understand the good servant to be both servant and friend, when He says, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth”? He introduces the name of friend in such a way as to withdraw that of servant; not as if to include both in the one term, but in order that the one should succeed to the place vacated by the other. What does it mean? Is it this, that even in doing the Lord’s commandments we shall not be servants? Or this, that then we shall cease to be servants, when we have been good servants? And yet who can contradict the Truth, when He says, “Henceforth I call you not servants?” and shows why He said so: “For the servant,” He adds, “knoweth not what his lord doeth.” Is it that a good and tried servant is not likewise entrusted by his master with his secrets? What does He mean, then, by saying, “The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth”? Be it that “he knoweth not what he doeth,” is he ignorant also of what he commands? For if he were so, how can he serve? Or how is he a servant who does no service? And yet the Lord speaks thus: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants.” Truly a marvellous statement! Seeing we cannot serve the Lord but by doing His commandments, how is it that in doing so we shall cease to be servants? If I be not a servant in doing His commandments, and yet cannot be in His service unless I so do, then, in my very service, I am no longer a servant.

3. Let us, brethren, let us understand, and may the Lord enable us to understand, and enable us also to do what we understand. And if we know this, we know of a truth what the Lord doeth; for it is only the Lord that so enables us, and by such means only do we attain to His friendship. For just as there are two kinds of fear, which produce two classes of fearers; so there are two kinds of service, which produce two classes of servants. There is a fear, which perfect love casteth out;3 and there is another fear, which is clean, and endureth for ever.4 The fear that lies not in love, the apostle pointed to when he said, “For ye have not received the spirit of service again to fear.”5 But he referred to the clean fear when he said, “Be not high-minded, but fear.”6 In that fear which love casteth out, there has also to be cast out the service along with it: for both were joined together by the apostle, that is, the service and the fear, when he said, “For ye have not received the spirit of service again to fear.” And it was the servant connected with this kind of service that the Lord also had in His eye when He said, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth.” Certainly not the servant characterized by the clean fear, to whom it is said, “Well done, thou good servant: enter thou into the joy of thy lord;” but the servant who is characterized by the fear which love casteth out, of whom He elsewhere saith, “The servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the Son abideth ever.”7 Since, therefore, He hath given us power to become the sons of God,8 let us not be servants, but sons: that, in some wonderful and indescribable but real way, we may as servants have the power not to be servants; servants, indeed, with that clean fear which distinguishes the servant that enters into the joy of his lord, but not servants with the fear that i has to be cast out, and which marketh him that abideth not in the house for ever. But let us bear in mind that it is the Lord that enableth us to serve so as not to be servants. And this it is that is unknown to the servant, who knoweth not what his Lord doeth; and who, when he doeth any good thing, is lifted up as if he did it himself, and not his Lord; and so, glories not in the Lord, but in himself, thereby deceiving himself, because glorying, as if he had not received.9 But let us, beloved, in order that we may be the friends of the Lord, know what our Lord doeth. For it is He who makes us not only men, but also righteous, and not we ourselves. And who but He is the doer, in leading us to such a knowledge? For “we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”10 Whatever good there is, is freely given by Him. And so because this also is good, by Him who graciously imparteth all good is this gift of knowing likewise bestowed; that, in respect of all good things whatever, he that glorieth may glory in the Lord.11 But the words that follow, “But I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you,” are so profound, that we must by no means compress them within the limits of the present discourse, but leave them over till another.

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4 Responses to Lectio divina for this Sunday’s readings, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Recognise the painting, but can’t quite identify it.

  2. mkenny114 says:

    I think it’s Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross, the one housed at Ghent.

  3. johnhenrycn says:

    “I think…”

    Actually, I suspect you knew, but are trying to break the news of my ignorance as gently as possible. I was almost was going to suggest Breugel, another Netherlandish painter of the 16th C, as there are some similarities between him and Bosch:

  4. mkenny114 says:

    Well, sort of. My first thought was Bruegel too actually, then I did a quick Google Image search and realised I’d got the wrong Lowlander. It was only then Bosch popped into my head🙂

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