In the Sunday Gospel, Jesus cuts right through the modern Western tendency to place love in opposition with law, and law in opposition with joy. Jesus joins all three concepts and summons us to a new attitude.
I. Announcement of the Principle – Jesus says, As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. 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. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
Note how the Lord joins the three concepts of love, law, and joy. This is precisely the opposite of what Western culture does. The best that Western culture will admit of law is that it is a necessary evil; more routinely it is viewed as an unloving imposition by the powerful on the weak, the hierarchy on the laity, the (evil, oppressive, pharisaical) Church on decent people.
Whereas the modern world disconnects law from love, Jesus links them. How do we both experience and show God’s love? Jesus says that we do so by keeping His commandments. He sets forth a vision whereby we, having experienced God’s love, desire and rejoice in His commands.
Again, this is quite contrary to modern notions. According to the modern world, a “loving” God has few or no rules. He merely affirms, encourages, accepts, and includes—or so goes the thinking. If someone is confronted by a moral truth that displeases them, their retort may be as simplistic as “God is love.” It implies that God does mind what we do since he is loving and merciful. It also confuses love with mere kindness. Kindness is an aspect of Love, but so is rebuke and correction. No loving parents will simply affirm bad behavior in their children. They will correct them, and, if necessary punish them because they love them.
Jesus too is surely loving, especially of sinners. He encourages us, he includes the outcast, and so forth, but He also speaks of sin and rebukes it. He embraces the sinner but directs him to “Sin no more.” He sets forth a demanding moral vision even as He shows mercy. In this Gospel, Jesus joins love and the law, saying that the law brings joy. They are not opposed. It is not an either/or, but a both/and. Jesus was not just the “affirmer in chief” who went about saying nothing but pleasant things. He, and his apostles who spoke for him, also speaks against anger, greed, malice, neglect of the poor, divorce, fornication, adultery, impure thoughts, homosexual acts, lack of faith, revenge, dishonesty, the sin of human respect, false and worldly priorities, and countless other matters.
II. Application of the Principle – The two greatest Commandments that summarize the whole law are to Love God and to love our neighbor. Hence, to further connect the Law and the Love of God, we should consider that when we love the Lord, and his love remains in us, that we will love what he loves and who he loves. Hence, with the Lord’s love in us we will love justice, chastity, forgiveness, generosity, and so forth. We will also come to love others more deeply, even those that trouble us. So there comes to us a deep love of the Commandments when we truly love God. We can say, “God has been good to me and I love him. If God wants it, I want it too. If God doesn’t want it neither do I.” Hence, Jesus says, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.”
As for the love of neighbor, here too, the Commandments are essential. They foster a common moral vision that helps us to live together, protect the vulnerable (especially children) and live within accepted boundaries. Good fences make good neighbors and God’s commandments set proper limits and delineate expectations and rights for communal living. Accepting and living the Commandments brings blessings and averts a lot of trouble. We do not keep the Commandments merely for our own sake, but for our families, community, Church and nation. So, keeping the Commandments is a way of loving our neighbor.
Though some see the Commandments as prison walls, they are not. They are defending walls that keep the wolf and devourer, the devil, away. This too is a way of showing love for our neighbor. What ever we can do to limit the devil’s influence is a blessing not only for us but for others.
III. The Animation of the Principle – In the today’s Gospel, not only does Jesus link love to the keeping of the commandments, but also says that the keeping of the commandments leads to joy: I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
Of this, I am a witness. When I entered the Seminary nearly forty years ago I was poorly catechized (having been largely reared in the 1970s). I don’t think I could even have listed most of the the Ten Commandments. But as I entered I was amazed at the rich legacy of teaching, truth and wisdom that came from the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church I was studying. God’s truth and law made sense, it was practical, good, true and beautiful. I was animated, thrilled in my soul to learn of it and somewhat angry at how much was denied me in the crazy 1970s. In my life now, I rejoice to study God’s law and truth, to preach it and teach it to others. In it are contained saving truths, and truths that explain the purpose of our life. So many today live without real meaning, and they focus on passing things and fads. But God’s Law is tested and true. It has endured because it makes sense and works. I am mindful of the words of Baruch: Happy are we O Israel, for what pleases God is known to us! (Bar 4:4)
Indeed, O Lord, how I love your law! It is the joy and center of my life. It gives me understanding and purpose. It teaches me your wisdom and summons me to be the man you created me to be. Yes, Lord, it is my immense joy and privilege to proclaim your Law in the great assembly and joyfully announce your wisdom and your decrees. Keep me faithful Lord unto death.
The Law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
bringing joy to the heart;
the commandments of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
the judgments of the LORD are true,
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By them indeed Your servant is warned;
in keeping them is great reward.
Psalm 19: 6-11