Remain in My Love

Sixth Sunday of Easter Scripture Readings

The focus of all of the readings today is love. It’s important to remember that the Greek they used to write Christian Scriptures had three different words for love, each with a specific meaning. First, there’s the familiar term, ἐρος (eros) referring to erotic love. Then, there’s the term φιλια (philia), which refers to affection or fondness, such as “brotherly love,” or friendship, or even a type of craving, like love of ice cream. The third term that translates as “love’ is αγαπη (ἀgapē), which refers to selfless, unconditional love. These three terms, all of which we translate as “love,” are in a kind of hierarchy from the lowest—erotic love—to the highest—agapē love.

We find this hierarchy in the epilogue of the Gospel of John [21:15-17], where Jesus asks Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me …?” Jesus uses agapē. Simon responds with, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Simon uses philia. The second time Jesus asks the same question and Peter responds the same way. The third time, however, Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” only, this time, Jesus uses the term philia. Evidently, he has downgraded his expectation of the love Peter is capable of, and so “Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’” using the term philia. The gospel writer and the early Christians were well aware of this distinction and realized the high standard of dedication required by the commitment to agapē love.

In the gospel today, we hear, “As the Father loves me, so I 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.” This is almost a circular argument because Jesus’s commandments come down to: love one another as I have loved you [John 13:34] and as the Father has loved me. What’s implied in our Scripture readings is that, for us humans, agapē love is impossible without outside spiritual help.

Our natural human condition from infancy is that of selfish self-interest—an attitude diametrically opposed to agapē love. We call it our instinct for self-preservation. Interestingly enough, the latest scientific understanding of the evolution of the universe called the “law of increasing functional information” suggests that the entire thrust of that evolution is governed by its need to expand and develop. From subatomic particles to galaxy clusters, those formations that contribute to the universe by providing more complexity and more energy continue and thrive, while the rest falls away and is recycled.

As part of the evolving universe, we humans necessarily contribute to this evolutionary process. The difference between us and everything else we know of comes down to the fact that we are capable of making choices. Everything else that exists either contributes to the evolution and has a lasting effect or fails to contribute and is recycled without regard to its identity. These things have no option other than to be what they are, but we do. We have the choice of expending ourselves, bringing goodness and light into the world, or retreating into our shells and becoming irrelevant. Yet our vocation is to channel agapē love—the spiritual energy that once created the universe and now drives it forward. Still, whether or not we accomplish what we’ve been called to do is in our hands. We have the choice—the choice to love or to withhold our love. The love of God—agapē love—is channeled through God’s Word made flesh and from him, it’s channeled through us.

Hear again the words of our second reading today. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Like the universe, the manifestation of the love of God is evolving It expressed itself in the first moment of creation, grew and expanded with consciousness, took flesh in the person of Jesus, manifested itself fully in his resurrection, and was given to us as a gift so that we might take an active part in its evolution by sharing it with one another. That Spirit of agapē love that originated with the Father, revealed itself in Jesus Christ, and was gifted to us to share, is what we call the Holy Spirit. That’s also what we call “grace,” meaning “gift”—the gift of the Spirit powerful enough to bring the universe into being, powerful enough to raise the Lord Jesus from the dead, and powerful enough to preserve us through death and into everlasting life.

Agapē love—that is self-effacing, self-sacrificing love—is that power that drives all of creation. It’s that love, given to us, that empowers us to love as Jesus loved. That, after all, is his commandment. When we choose to love as Jesus loved, we become part of the Incarnation because we bring God himself to birth in our world. As John reminds us, “God is love.” When we channel God’s agapē love into the world, we channel God. When we love as God loves, we live as God lives, and the resurrection is ours because the love of God can never die.

The mystery of Easter—the mystery of the resurrection—reminds us of who we are and who we are called to be. We are called to be Christ-bearers, to continue the Incarnation, and to bring to birth the agapē love of the Father into our world as Jesus did in his. So, once again I repeat, “Beloved let us love one another—lovable or unlovable, deserving or underserving, believer or unbeliever, attractive or repulsive, saint or sinner, friend or foe—because love is of God.”

Readings & Homily Video

Get articles from H. Les Brown delivered to your email inbox.