6th Sunday of Easter
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope
One the most common religious experiences of people today, especially in the so-called first world, the more affluent nations of the west, is the apparent loss of the sense of God’s presence in the world and in one’s personal life. This experience of the absence of God is so wide spread in our day that in the not so distant past a new school of theological thought emerged among some non-catholic theologians, which was called the Death of God theology. However, this extreme approach to theology was itself dead in a short time, for while its proponents could document and describe this lack of God feeling or experience fairly well, they really had nothing much to say that would help people actually rediscover God and find hope in their lives. And while these radical theologians may have been willing to have no experience of God in their lives permanently, most Christians and other people simply cannot live this way. They really hunger for God, whether they fully understand this hunger as “hunger for God” or not.
Man’s hunger for God is very real, not something merely psychological, but something much deeper. It may sound strange, but, as St. Augustine taught, man’s heart and whole being truly desire God, that is, to be united to God, and the fact that many people today actually sense or are consciously aware of the absence of God in the modern world is perhaps a positive sign that something deep is stirring in the human heart of these folks. Today, people may not be able to name the object of this deep desire they feel in their hearts, or sense in their very being, but most everyone knows that what they desire or have a deep hunger for is personal happiness. And people do not long for just a temporary and partial happiness but for a happiness that never ends and a happiness that is unalloyed with evil and its consequences. Moreover, down deep most everyone also recognize that such a perfect happiness cannot be found in this world. This desire for perfect happiness coupled with a realism concerning its impossibility in this life can be a first step to recognizing that such happiness can only be found in God and in the world that God indwells.
When Jesus was about to leave this world and return to the Father, he said something amazing to his little flock: You are my friends if you do what I command you. That’s quite an astounding statement if one truly believes that Jesus is truly God, a divine person, equal in his personhood to the Father and thus infinitely superior to any of us. The Greek world would have found this whole notion of friendship with the Gods ridiculous, for the gods were so superior to us that we could only be their slave or servant, but never truly their friend.
Nonetheless, Jesus insists that we are his friends, if we do what he commands us. By lowering Himself and becoming man, He made it possible for us to be his friends, because He now shares our same human nature, which on this level only makes him equal to us, our brother, who can now truly be our friend. But still we can be his friend only if we recognize and honor the deeper truth about him, that He is also our God, and to do that we must obey Him as God if we are to be his friend as man. As Psalm 119 says, “But thou art near, O LORD, and all thy commandments are true. Long have I known … that thou hast founded them forever.” God is close tom us in His commandments, and his commands are truth, and He will always be close to those who affirm that his commands are truth by struggling to obey them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus again speaks of friendship, but in terms of that essential quality of friendship, which is love, and which he links to obedience to his commandments: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. It’s quite clear, you are my friends if you do what I command you; you love me if you keep my commandments. Friendship with Jesus means loving Him, and because He is also God, we can’t be His friends nor truly love Him if we do not do what He command s us. What he commands us of course includes the 10 Commandments and the whole natural law – founded as Psalm 119 says “forever”, and the commandments of the Church, which he established. All these commandments come from Him because He is God’s Word, who has promulgated all these commandments through the ages. So if we are not keeping his commandments or at least trying to keep his commandments, then we really do not love Jesus as our God and Savior, and so how could we really be his friends?
The western world may rightly sense the absence of God because the populations of the so-called first world have largely abandoned God, by abandoning his commandments, not because God has abandoned man. We can only experience the presence of Jesus if we love him enough to keep his commandments. Nor does Jesus leave us orphans, for he promises in the Gospel: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
Indeed, the Lord Himself comes to us constantly in so many different ways today. He comes to us through His Spirit and through His Bride, the Church, so that we can know what his commandments are with certitude, and so we can have the grace and power of the sacraments to help us obey His law not out of fear but out of love, the love of friendship. Thus, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus repeats this law of love:
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
Note that last line, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. Jesus reveals His presence to those who are one with Him through obedience based on love. Since most people in our western societies, including a vast number of Christians, are not living according to his commandments, one could hardly expect Jesus to be close to most people today, let alone present in most people as He promised in the Gospel: “but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
Today, the so-called first world is more like the last world when it comes to faith and religious practice. All the religious polls tell us that the vast majority of western populations have largely abandoned the moral laws of the ages, have stopped living according to God’s commandments. This revolution is most manifested in the statistics revealing the plague of divorce and remarriage, the embracing of contraception as a way of life, the approval of same sex marriage, the sexual libertinism among the unmarried, the addictions to drugs, pornography, alcohol, the artificial generation of human life by technology, and, worst of all, abortion, and on and on? It is a world with no real basis for hope in the future, and its depression rates bare this witness.
If so many people no longer sense the presence of God in their lives, or the closeness of the Lord Jesus, there is little reason for hope. St Peter tells us Christians, Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. There is only one reason for hope, and His name is Jesus, the Risen Lord. We have hope because he died for our sins. We have hope because He rose from the dead to raise us to a new Life. We have hope because we know he has not left us orphans but remains always with us and in us till the end of time.
That is our Easter proclamation we have been making for weeks now. He is risen and we have a solid reason for hope, and it is a hope not only for this life but for Eternal Life. Our life is changed if we become His friends, and He remains in us always, in good times and in bad. It’s a spiritual marriage that is the basis for our hope, not our own strength or wisdom or power, but His. And all we have to do is to remain His friends by obeying His commandments with His saving power. Above all, we must obey His command to love God and to love one another as He has loved and continues to love each of us. We must lay down our pride and sin and live for Him. That is the foundation and explanation for the hope that is in us, and there is no other. That is the way back to God and secret of the good life in this world, and there is no other.