Today’s readings: Acts 14, 21-27; Apocalypse 21, 1-5; John 13, 31-35.
There are myths about the intersection between belief and politics that need to be dismantled. Belief is not simply concerned with the existence of God or bothered with afterlife. Any faith, of whatever religion or philosophy, not committed to the building of a better world risks being transformed into ideology or serves only to pacify an individualistic conscience.
Today’s Scriptural readings portray a counter-narrative of Christian discipleship in the face of what distorts hope and whatever in our society generates illusions and new forms of slavery. This should make us discern deeply how complex the task of Christian discipleship is in the face of our contemporary political malaise.
In the Apocalypse, St John speaks about the vision of a holy city pointing to “a new heaven and a new earth”. The city where God “will make His home” is the city where “all tears are wiped away” and where “there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness”. This sounds very utopian. But even the love about which Jesus speaks in the Gospel sounds utopian in a world where violence and abuse are still rampant.
Jesus was not speaking about the commandment to love in some idyllic gathering. The context was the eve of his being falsely accused and condemned to death and the immediate context was one of the shaky friendships and loyalties of those who were completely ignorant of what they would be doing in a matter of hours.
The commandment to love one another is not a specifically Christian thing. It is universal. What becomes specifically Christian about it is the qualification to love “just as I have loved you”. Jesus demands high standards of love because the way he loved was unconditional, not depending on whether love is reciprocated.
Of course this is not easily comprehensible in a culture where self-esteem is so important and where the costs of loving are calculated. We live in a political context, even at a European level, where we have renounced to the principles that inspired our civilisation. This has happened in the distant and not so distant past, and whenever it happened it made us lose our soul and compassion.
In a highly technological age, we have endless opportunities but we still carry startling existential questions deep in our hearts that cannot simply be remedied by the power of reason. Aesthetics, rather than calculated reason, can make us rediscover who we really are and what a good society should resemble.
There is, yes, so much manifestation of love in our societies. But there is also so much resistance to let go of the multi-faceted and modern egoisms. Particularly in our faith communities, we cannot afford to make a parody of Christian love which would put at risk the credibility of the Gospel itself. Loving in the manner of Christ in our present context should disturb our inner peace of conscience and open wide our eyes to the malaises of our world.
Paul and Barnabas, according to today’s Acts account, journeyed restlessly through a vast geographical landscape with their proclamation, establishing and organising new communities of faith and “putting fresh heart into the disciples”. Our communities today have become weary and the first proclamation has become burdened with so much that is purely accessorial.
We need to let go of so much that has accumulated with time and rediscover the passion to believe, putting a fresh heart in whatever we stand for. Our churches may be diminishing in numbers, but what we need is small communities that really know what they stand for, and that can continue to provide a clear and powerful sign of the force of Christ’s love.
This is the only way to prove that the resurrection of Christ is not a myth outside history but the alternative to all that in history is distorting and deviant.
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