There are many ways to come to know a society. How a society understands and presents itself to the world will be reflected in those things it values most. Various indicators reveal something of the forces that shape the way a society operates.
Imagine a diplomat from a distant country, sent to establish relations with an unknown territory. The Stock Exchange and the Government’s Budget figures might offer an economic perspective of that territory, highlighting its socio-economic landscape. The numbers of people emigrating to other parts of the world may tell a story as would its reception of those who arrive on its shores. The clothes people wear, their hairstyles and the music they listen to has the power to define whole generations. Even the statute books paint a picture of that conduct which a society deems incompatible with the common good.
Is it not the same with Jesus? He reveals God to man in many ways. Commandments are one such way of making God known to us. Talk of commandments inevitably brings with it allusions to obligation and conformity to rules. It is easy to see commandments as a list of prohibitions, limiting freedom, spontaneity and fun. ‘Thou shalt not’ resonates in every age. Jesus however, links keeping His commandments with love. There are undoubtedly things God commands us not to do but even then we ought to understand what it is that such prohibitions says about God. When we are commanded not to kill, not to commit adultery and not to steal, what is God communicating to us? Should it be seen as a restriction on our freedom to do these things or is it a lesson in authentic loving of others?
God’s charter of charity is much simpler that the reams of regulations accrued on the statute books of the state legislature over the centuries. It was given to Moses in Ten Commandments. Not only are the content of these directives ordered towards authentic love but their brevity too, according to G.K. Chesterton, should be understood in relation to God’s benevolence. He claims that “the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.”
Furthermore, if this were not simple enough, Jesus teaches that the whole of the Law and the Prophets hang on the twin precepts of love of God and love of neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40). Whether or not any new foreign diplomats will arrive on our shores to establish relations with us is uncertain but we can be sure to expect a return visit from our Lord. He says so in today’s Gospel. One wonders what He will make of our society. Will He want to establish relations with us when He sees the things we value?
Gospel Reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Year A (John 14:15-21)