The resurrection of Jesus brought about a profound sense of newness. It inaugurated new ways, new lifestyles, new vision, new values and attitudes. At the same time, the resurrection of Jesus, entailed a different path, a different lifestyle, a different community, a different religion from the one that people have become used to. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the very reason for the birth of Christianity. If not for the resurrection, Christianity would not have been born as a new religion separate from Judaism.
In the first reading of today’s 5th Sunday of Easter, from the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after they proclaimed the good news to many cities and made a considerable number of disciples. When they came home to the community of Antioch in Syria, they were “commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished.”
Tradition holds that the first gentile (non-Jews) church was founded in Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). It was from Antioch that St. Paul started on his missionary journeys. More significantly, it is in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).
Why were they called Christians? They were called Christians because they were different. At the same time, they lived their faith in a new way. Unlike the traditional Jews who were mainly legalistic and exclusive, the disciples of Jesus Christ embraced and welcome everyone, Jews and gentiles alike, not just the rich but most especially the poor and ordinary people. They proclaimed not only in word but much more in deed, practising what they preach and living as communities which became models of communion and fellowship.
The second reading, from the book of Revelation, proclaims the radical newness of the world that God will established at the end of times. This is the fulfillment of the new world which is contained in the promise of the resurrection of Jesus. “See, I make all things new,” says the One who sat on the throne. The second reading is about a vision of a new earth, a new Jerusalem, in which “there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”
The new Jerusalem will be made up of people who love one another. People will not watch in this holy city as their brothers and sisters languish in poverty and hunger, nor will they attack each other in various forms of inhumane treatment, torture, and war. This whole new world – “a new heaven and a new earth,” “new Jerusalem,” – is the ultimate fruit of living the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel reading from John’s account of the Last Supper represents the heart of what is going on in the Christian mission flowing from Easter. Jesus gave the disciples a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jesus’ love for them and their imitation of Jesus’ love for each other will be the deepest form of evangelization: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34).
The “newness” of this command is difficult to specify. The command to love is found everywhere in the Bible, not just in the New Testament but Old Testament as well. In his farewell address to Esau and Jacob, for example, Isaac commanded: “Be loving of your brothers as a man loves himself, with each man seeking for his brother what is good for him . . . loving each other as themselves” (The Book of Jubilees 36:4-5). Similar sentiments are also found in the New Testament (1 Th 4:9; Rm 13:9; Gal 5:14; Mk 12:31).
What is evident in all these passages, however, is that love is extended only to other members of the inner circle, the community, and not to those outside. Whereas, God’s love that Jesus commanded to the disciples to imitate is spontaneous, unmotivated, directed to sinners and others unworthy of love. Israel experienced this love of old (Dt 7:6-8). In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s love is known in a totally new dimension.
Jesus’ new commandment to love calls us to love to the extent and in the manner Jesus loved us. Our love is to be the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. It is a love that embraces all, those who are different from us, even our enemies. It is this kind of love which brings Jesus glory. It is this kind of love which brings God glory. It is this kind of love which enables us to share in that same glory.
As Jesus commanded his disciples, he commands us now, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
How do we measure up to Jesus’ commandment today?