The people asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, 'I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.'
Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."
"My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him."
The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures. (R./)
All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord,
and your friends shall repeat their blessing.
They shall speak of the glory of your reign
and declare your might, O God,
to make known to men your mighty deeds
and the glorious splendour of your reign. (R./)
Yours is an everlasting kingdom;
your rule lasts from age to age. (R./)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Paul and Barnabas warned their converts that they must experience many hardships before entering the kingdom of God. Yet, earlier we are told how those two apostles were filled with joy when they were driven out of Antioch (Acts 13:52). Reading the first book in the New Testament to be written, Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians, (written at least twelve years before Mark's gospel, and maybe thirty years before the Acts,) we find Paul warning his Christian followers in Thessalonika about difficulties ahead. "Affliction is bound to come our way," he warns, "we must expect to have troubles to bear" (1 Thess 3:3f). Paul himself was to experience this often, as he bore witness, in his own life, to the sufferings of Christ.
The apostles did not dwell on this theme of suffering in any kind of morbid way. Their purpose, at all times, was to put fresh heart into the disciples, to encourage them to persevere in the faith, just as Paul urged the Thessalonians to comfort one another, to sustain each other's hopes of eternal salvation. "All things work together in a good way, for those who love God," he wrote to the Christians in Rome (8:28). We can be certain that our God is central impulse of love, and, Our Lord asks us to let this love give direction and shape to our lives. Indeed every chapter in the New Testament carries a message from him to us; and often it echoes what he told his Apostles at the Last Supper; "Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me" (Jn 14:1).
We see this move from despondence to courage in the encounter of the risen Christ with the two disciples, who were weighed down with gloom on their trek to Emmaus, on that first Easter Sunday. At first their eyes were kept from recognising him, but when questioned as to what they were discussings, and why they were so glum, they tried to explain the tragic things that had taken place in Jerusalem shortly before. "What things?," he asked them, as if Christ had forgotten his own Passion! That brief question, "What things?," suggests that so perfectly has Christ passed into the freedom, and joy, and glory of his Father, that he scarcely remembers the terrible journey he had travelled in arriving there. There are no dark clouds on God's horizon, nor any sorrowful memories weighing upon the mind of God.
The disciples at Emmaus were led gradually to make an act of faith in the risen Christ. When the moment of recognition came, amazingly, "he had already vanished from their sight." It was not by the optical sight of their eyes, but rather by the faith response in their hearts that he made himself known. "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road," they said in retrospect. When a Christian comes to celebrate the Eucharist, his/her primary purpose should not be to complain, or even to ask for graces, but rather to give heartfelt thanks to God.
We may wonder whether this Last-Supper commandment of Jesus to love one another is really all that new. After all, he could point to an Old Testament requirement to love my neighbour as myself (Lev 19:18). The clearest new element is that we are to love just as Jesus loved us, and that was totally, to the last drop of his blood, poured out on the hill of Calvary. Another sense in which the Christian commandment to love is new is in the breadth of the definition of who is my neighbour, whom I should love. In the parable of the Good Samaritan it appears that now everyone is my neighbour -- even those of different nationality or religion. So now, love for our neighbour is very demanding, and goes beyond all racism or prejudice.
The really hard question is whether such love is possible. While giving a hesitant yes to this as a possibility, it is clear that most of us, most of the time clearly fail to live this new commandment fully. We can only love in this way by cooperating very generously with the grace of God. But the power to do is is made possible by the New Covenant set up by Christ, and because we have the living presence of the risen Jesus always with us, to help us love in his way.
Of course there are difficult situations where it is very demanding to love our neighbour as ourselves or even to love our neighbour in any way at all. In the face of Islamic extremism or any other form of terrorism, or in time of war, we are strongly tempted to dehumanise the enemy and regard them as no longer part of the human family, and so unworthy of any kind of love or respect. But Jesus' commandment to love, and his own example of forgiving those who crucified him, constantly call us to reconsider things and seek for reconciliation rather than total victory.
In the end, it is only when working with the grace of God that we can love our neighbour as ourselves in this new way. It is only by living every day with Jesus that we can love our neighbour as ourselves in this new way. Can we live our day in such a way that we are in communion with Jesus in some way all day? It is only by living our day with Jesus that we can love as he loved. It is only by living close to Jesus that we can love as Jesus asked us. If not, we will be relying only on our human efforts alone, and we will love with some other type of love but not the unconditional love Jesus asked for when he said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you."
Some say they don't read newspapers anymore because there's too much bad news in them. They have a point. A while back e,g, a national newspaper ran stories about footballers knowingly or unknowingly taking banned performance-enhancing substances; a pedestrian killed by a hit-run driver; the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and other capitals; the wretched conditions of refugees gathered in makeshift camps in Turkey, Greece and elsewhere, fleeing from the chaos of Syria's civil war. News like that may well turn people off reading their newspapers.
In an isolated village, two children aged eight and six tell a visiting traveller about a play they have put on at their local church. They have teamed up with a friend to dramatize how Jesus wants us to love one another. The first child gets a phone call from Jesus to say he will be coming along that day and will need some help. The two children are to keep a lookout for him. Well then, Jesus turns up in the guise of the third child who has hurt her knee and needs first aid. One of the first two asks her friend who is talking to Jesus on the phone to help. The friend says she is busy talking to Jesus, and is waiting for him to arrive. But in the end she goes to help the injured one. At the end of the day she gets another phone call from Jesus. He thanks her for helping him. She says she doesn't understand. She had waited and waited for him, but he didn't show up. Then Jesus explains that he did come after all, in the form of the child that needed help.
The kind of love that Jesus wants of us is a love modelled on his own kind of love. He showed his love in so many ways -- in kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, perseverance, endurance, faithfulness and forgiveness. There was no limit to what his love would give or where it would take him. A love like that of Jesus is therefore a practical, down-to-earth kind of love. It's a kindness and compassion kind of love, a self-forgetting kind of love. It's a self-sacrificing kind of love even to the point of risking one's life so that others might be free.
It's our love for others that keeps the great love of Jesus for people visible in our world today. An American journalist, watching Mother Teresa caring for a man with gangrene, remarked to her: 'I wouldn't do that for a million dollars.' Mother Teresa replied: 'Neither would I ... but I do it for love of God.' Selfishness keeps us shut in, builds barriers, even walls, between us and others. What frees us is caring caring for others, being friends, being sisters and brothers to them, being good neighbours. A doctor, who has shared some of the deepest moments in the lives of many patients, says that people facing death don't think about the degrees they've earned, the positions they've held, or how much wealth they've amassed. What really matters at the end is whom you have loved and who has loved you.
Love always demands the best from us, and brings out the best in us. Being loved gives us a surprising energy and courage. Love makes us fruitful, productive, strong and constant in doing good. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, famous for her work on the stages of dying, has written: 'Love is the flame that warms our soul, energises our spirit and supplies passion to our lives. It's our connection to God and to one another.'
Loving is a giving of self, that has power to heal ourselves and others. To love is to heal, both those who receive and those who give it. To decide to love is to be open to a fuller life. Love is choice more than a feeling. When we choose to be loving, caring, healing, helping, and forgiving persons, we grow towards what our life is meant to be. There's really no other way. So Jesus insists, very strongly: 'Love one another, as I have loved you.'