Why do we do what is right? What is it that is built into the human condition that forces us to ask the question: What should I do? Why should we obey the law? I ask myself this question when I’m on a desolate road at a stop light when I can see that no one is coming from the other way. I see that I have a red light and see that the non-existent cars all have a green light and I’m trapped waiting for this machine to recognize that it needs to change. And, I hate to admit it but there have been times when I have been tempted to run the red light with the theory that we are the most ridiculous of lemmings, the biggest of all blind followers, if we obey this piece of pointless traffic legislation. But I always talk myself out of it because I know the law and we need to obey the law. If we don’t, the alternative is lawless anarchy. We have visions of a crowded street fill with people pushing over cars, looting stores, and destroying property. And, of course, as we all know, the main reason we obey laws is because we fear being punished. Yesterday, I asked the first communion children why they obeyed what their mom and dad asked them to do and, at first they had nice answers about knowing that Jesus was watching and wanting to please mom and dad. But then, when I asked them if they obeyed because they were afraid to be punished, they all shook their heads. There was a time in the church when this was a big motivating factor in the church. The old act of contrition that I still hear at times in the confessional, used to say, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because I fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell…” Fear of punishment is a great motivating factor for doing good and avoiding evil. But there is an even better one that we hear about in the gospel today.
“Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” I remember a time when I learned the real meaning of these words. I was in High School and I had just said something to my Mom that must have been just awful. I say that it must have been because I don’t honestly remember what I said or even why we were fighting. And I remember seeing my Mom start to cry and realizing that I never ever wanted to have to see my Mom cry again. I never ever wanted to be the cause of pain for my mom. I never ever wanted to wonder if my Mom still loved me or not. I mean, I’m sure she did but, at that time, I wasn’t sure and it would have killed me if she didn’t. The only way I could be sure that I didn’t ever hurt her like that again was to do whatever she told me to do and trust that she had my best interest at heart. I was fortunate enough that both my Father and Mother always did have my best interest at heart even if I didn’t always like to hear what they had to say.
This message of Jesus seems contrary to some of the statements of Paul which seem to throw out the law in deference to faith but, in truth, it’s a reminder that the locus of law is in love. Each commandment is to be followed because we love God enough to trust that he has our best interests at hearth. Love forces us to care more about other people than ourselves and our own comfort. Love was what moved the deacon Phillip to go from the safety and security of Jerusalem to evangelize to the Jew’s backwater cousins, the Samaritans, in the first reading. He could have been warm and well fed staying where the disciples appointed him, as a leader to the Greek speaking members of the church of Jerusalem. But, instead, he heeded the call of God to reach out in love to tell the Samaritans about Christ so that they, too, might be saved.
We, Christians, are called by Christ to live in that love, to make God’s love our own, to make God’s love our home. Our life is to be so filled with love that we are identified with it. The early Christian writer, Tertullian, quoted pagans who identified us with love and, as we are filled with the love of Christ who is filled with the love of his Father, we are called to be keepers of the commandments because of how much we love Christ who was first loved by God and then loved us. But, that doesn’t mean that we are to fulfill the commandments of the Old Testament. The one commandment that we must obey is the law of love; love God and love one another. Jesus tells us that he is sending another counselor, an expert in the law, to advise us on how this will play out specifically when he sends the Holy Sprit. The Holy Spirit will guide the church and her members so that we will never go astray. And so, we will continue this homily in two weeks during the feast of Pentecost.