Has anyone ever made a request of you by beginning with the caveat “if you love me?” Prefacing a request like this seems to be a form of emotional manipulation or a form of demand. I have had it done to me before and I really do not care for that approach. In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear Jesus doing exactly what I would prefer no friend of mine do in asking me for something.
Jesus gets a pass here, not just because of who He is, but because it becomes clear why He uses this turn of phrase when you understand what the statement entails. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Honestly, how can one argue with that? Many times when people preface a request with “if you love me” it is because they are preparing to ask for something beyond a reasonable or agreeable request. Can we make an argument against what Jesus is asking? For the disciple, the only answer is no.
The answer is no because there is nothing unreasonable in the Lord’s request. There is nothing in the commandments that is contrary to our personal well-being. There is nothing in the commandments that will adversely affect us by our being faithful to what is asked. Here is our problem: many times we have a false notion of what is truly good; at times we want what is contrary to our ultimate good because sin has darkened our intellect and disordered our passions and appetites. Our ultimate good is in receiving God’s free gift of salvation. God wants that good for us and assists us with His grace to be able to receive that good. However, we have to want that good as well, and not act in ways contrary to it or in ways that will result only in obstacles to our receiving it.
This brings us to another aspect of Sunday’s Gospel: the promise of the Advocate. As Ascension and Pentecost approach, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit is the on-going gift of God’s presence with the Church, collectively and individually. It is the Spirit who seeks to cast light on our darkened intellect and passions so that we can see our choices for what they are; either a help or a detriment in deepening our relationship with God and keeping our focus on the things of heaven.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” the Lord says to us. Dovetailing that we could also say “if you love yourself, you will keep His commandments,” since keeping the commandments will lead us to eternal life with the Lord in heaven. Loving God and keeping His commandments may seem to involve sacrifices but what are we really giving up? If anything is contrary to God then it is also contrary to our own good and we are not really “giving up” anything good.
May the Holy Spirit, the promised Advocate, continue to shine God’s light on our choices so that we may see the good and choose it daily. In choosing the good, we are choosing God and His promise of life with Him forever in heaven.
Father Christopher House is the Rector of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia, namely Chancellor and Vicar Judicial.