5 Easter

Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
In Nomine Patris (+), etc.
The Rev. Noel Bordador

In her book called “Loving-kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness,” (1995) Sharon Salzberg mentioned a scientific study of two groups of elderly people living in a nursing home. All residents of the nursing home were given a plant. But one group were told to actively care for the plant, making sure they have enough water and sunlight. The other group, however, were not given  instructions to take responsibility for the health of the plant; instead, they were told that the nursing home staff would take care, and that they were simply to enjoy the plant. At the end of the year, the two groups were compared, and the researchers found that the elderly who actively cared for the plants lived longer, were healthier, had a more positive outlook of the world, and seemed connected to the world. Now, the point of the research study is not about the effects of gardening on health as much as the ability to have opportunity for intimacy, love and caring has positive effects on one’s life. From time to time, we hear of research studies (e.g., J.T. Cacciopo et al, Loneliness and Health, Potential Mechanisms, Psychosomatic Medicine, 64, 407-417, 2002) in which people who are lonely- people who feel unloved, unwanted, isolated or ignored, or feeling disconnected to others- tend to have high blood pressure, high rates of heart disease, and depression.

We need more than air, food and water to survive. We need love, we need intimacy, we need caring, we have a need for inclusion, close relationship, belonging. Without these, we lose a sense of meaning in life. Without love, without being cared for or having someone to care for, we do not thrive, we wither away. A few months ago, a neighbor died after a long battle with illness, and within six months, the surviving spouse also died. There seems to be some evidence that mortality for widows or widowers are high within six month following the death of the spouse. This has been called the “broken heart syndrome.” The surviving spouse fails to thrive because of the loss of a loved one. Human beings are built for love. We are hardwired for intimacy- to give and receive care. God created us to be loving beings. We are most human when we are loving and compassionate. Conversely, we fall short of the human ideal when we are unloving, when we are unkind and when we are indifferent to others.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples that their primary responsibility and task, their primary mission as Church is to embody lovingkindness and compassion towards one another and to the world. In the end that is what Church is all about- to incarnate God’s love by our acts of mercy and compassion. Jesus said, “If you would be my disciples, then you ought to love one another. People will know you are my disciples because of the love you bear in you.” (par.) The litmus test of our faith is the deep capacity of our hearts to show love. It is for love or lack thereof by which we will be judged by God. My favorite saint, John of the Cross, once wrote, “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.”

The difficulty is that our love is partial, at best, an approximation of the totality and purity of God’s love. Sometimes, our love is tinged with self-centeredness. Sometimes, we love in order to expect something back in return. Our love is often alloyed with ulterior motives. Often times, we love only those we find lovable, we love those who are like us or who like us , we love those we judge worthy of our love, but we often ignore those who are not like us or who we do not like or those we think unworthy of us. Last week, our city was rocked by a death of a homeless man who lay dying in the streets of Queens while about twenty-five people passed him by, and ignored him. Ironically, the homeless man was stabbed by an assailant as he was trying to save the life of another human person. Our society often find homeless people unlovable,  dispensable, easy to ignore, easy to reject.

Yet, we are challenged by the Gospel to expand our capacity to love to include those who are difficult for us to love. Jesus challenges us to give love without anything in return, without a hope for reward except perhaps the reward of knowing that we have done the right thing. Once, I read a story, a spoof, a parody on the story of the Last Supper where the disciples were gathered with Jesus for their last meal together. If you would recall, in one Gospel story, Jesus predicted that someone (meaning Judas Iscariot) would betrayed him.  In the spoof, when Jesus said, he asked the disciples who they thought the betrayer was. Rather than point on one person, Judas, they started pointing at each other, meaning, those disciples did not always like each other and did not get along that much either. But they are us, too, isn’t it? Here we gather around the Lord’s Table, sometimes we get along, sometimes we don’t. Here around this Table, we worship together with people we like and people we don’t like. But here, the Lord has gathered us together. God has brought us face to face together -including those we rather not sit with around this Table- to challenge us to expand our capacity for lovingkindness not only for those we like, but most especially, for those we rather not associate because we find them annoying or repulsive or we are angry at them for something they did to us.  That’s indeed a hard thing to do- to wish happiness and love on people we dislike or we find difficult.  What are we to do? In the Buddhist tradition, when one feels the absence of love towards another, or when one is blocked from loving another human person because of the presence of negative feelings, it is recommended that one repeats certain phrases that wishes the other happiness and peace. In doing so, one cultivates seeds of lovingkindness in one’s heart that contains anger and unwholesome thoughts and feelings. For us Christians, we don’t have to deny our negative feelings. We don’t have to pretend to like somebody we find disagreeable. We don’t have to conjure up good feelings because we really can’t manufacture or make a feeling happen. We can still have our negative feelings yet we can remember them before God, and we pray that someday, we indeed learn to show kindness to those we find difficult. A few years ago, when I was in seminary, there was a person I could hardly stand and I am pretty sure she found me irritating as well. But at chapel, during th Eucharist, I would intentionally sit besides her so when it came to giving the peace, I wouldn’t be able to avoid to shake her hand. I did it with a prayer that perhaps someday,  the negativity in my heart would give way to kindness towards her. Perhaps we can’t like or love them now, but we form an intention in our mind and will to work towards the goal of lovingkindness. When we pray for them,  and wish them goodness and happiness, we plant and cultivate seeds of love in our hearts and minds, we remember, that they are just like us- that they need love and kindness to survive and thrive- and we go on trusting that in time, that love and compassion replace those feeling of unlovingness in us and there shall be a flowering of love for all. And we become the loving person God created and intends us to be.