Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
Jesus said, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.’
How can you be commanded to love? Surely love has to be a free response, not an obligation. You can be commanded to obey, but how can you be commanded to love? How could Jesus say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another?”
Meister Eckhart threw a clear light on this conundrum. He said, “When I am thirsty, the drink commands me; when I am hungry, the food commands me. And God does the same [when God commands me to love].” In other words, the command to love is not a command that is laid on us from the outside; it is an inner command, an inner urgency placed in our very being by God – like hunger and thirst; or, you might say, like the urgency that an acorn has to develop into an oak tree. It is not something alien, it is totally our own, and yet it is totally from God – because God is totally our own, “more ours,” said Tauler, “than anything else we own.” If God is totally ours, then God’s commands are totally ours.
Probably most us grew up with the belief that God was somewhere else, not here; that heaven was a place where God lived far away. Any communication from such a God would be an intrusion from the outside. Certainly we also said that God was everywhere, but these two thoughts may never have overlapped or touched each other at all. If we also had the wrong kind of fear of God, we may then have imagined God everywhere in the way that a controlling headmaster is ‘everywhere’ in the school – meaning that no matter what you did, he found out about it.
Our thoughts and feelings about God are always in need of a great deal of healing. This should be happening naturally, through the grace of God, in the course of our daily life; but prayer and meditation are the favoured place for it to happen. There the experience of the day is sifted without interference and comes around slowly into the right perspective. We can confidently hope to be able to enjoy our faith. Meister Eckhart again: “If anyone commands me to do that which is pleasant, which avails me or on which my bliss depends, that is exceedingly sweet to me.”
Joy is very close to the heart of our faith. Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and wants to draw us into his own joy (John 15:11). Paul mentions joy as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Since the enjoyment of God… surpasses the power of all creatures, it follows that this complete and perfect joy does not enter into us but rather we enter into it. ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (Matthew 25.21).”