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Bishop's Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 17, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (private; live-streamed)]

If you love me, you will do what I say!

If we heard these words from an acquaintance, a friend or a family member, red flags would immediately start waving in our minds.  They sound very manipulative, self-centered and controlling.  In fact, some variation of this “If you love me, you will do what I say” concept actually is used to manipulate people into giving sexual or financial favors, into committing crimes, or into covering up crimes for others.  Unfortunately, they do not always raise the red flags they should, at least not until it is too late.  It is good to have some healthy skepticism when we hear someone say, “If you love me, you will do what I say!”

Yet today we hear Jesus say to his disciples – to us! – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments!”  While our skepticism about hearing these words from anyone else may be healthy, it really is for our own good that Jesus tells us this.  He said those words just hours before he would lay down his life for us, himself doing what his Father had commanded him to do, as painful as it was emotionally and physically.  What Jesus is telling us is qualitatively different from someone else saying what seems to be manipulative and controlling.  He asks us to do nothing that he himself was not willing to do.  It is obviously not solely for his own pleasure and benefit that Jesus asks us to do what he says, even though he will be overjoyed if we do.  Rather it is for our own benefit.  He first loved us, and it is from that most genuine love, proved in his suffering and dying for us, that Jesus demonstrates that it is really for our own eternal benefit that we should keep his commandments.

When we do the things God wants us to do, we are actually being our best selves, even though keeping his commandments is not always easy.  After all, God made us; he knows how we function; he has our best interests at heart; he made us; we belong to him.  Keeping his commandments is like following the owner’s manual written by the manufacturer, who knows best about what he has made.

So how do we distinguish between someone who is being manipulative and self-serving, and someone who is only interested in our own welfare?  This is where the gift of the Holy Spirit comes in, the Spirit of truth.  This Holy Spirit is given to us to guide us, and the more we are aware of the presence of this Advocate, the more we will be strengthened to keep the Lord’s commandments and to be filled with life and joy.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see Philip working wonders, casting out demons and healing the paralyzed and crippled.  Philip could easily have turned these wonders he worked into self-aggrandizing demands for loyalty.  But the words, “Look what Philip did for you!” never crossed his mind.  He knew he could only do such marvels as a servant of Jesus, the one who laid down his life and took it up again in the resurrection.  The amazing story recounted for us today is really not about Philip, but about Jesus, because Philip kept Jesus’ commandment to go out and preach the good news everywhere.  It was the Spirit of truth who kept Philip honest so that glory would be given where it belonged, to Jesus alone.

No one is going to say that it is easy to keep God’s commandments.  When we are hurting financially, it is easy to take what does not belong to us.  When we are doing well financially, it is easy to ignore those who struggle.  When we are sexually attracted, it is easy to give in to the flesh rather than to discipline ourselves in chastity with the help of the Spirit and perhaps to give positive witness to others who struggle.  When someone hurts us, it is easy to lash out at that person in vengeance, but very difficult to follow the lead of the Spirit and forgive.  We are tempted on every side to keep our own commandments instead of the commandments of the Lord.  But Jesus predicates it all on love, a love that is not manipulative, but self-sacrificing; and therefore, we will be most free when we allow ourselves to be enslaved to the one who loves us and who laid down his life for us.  And the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, can give us a strength we never thought possible on our own, so that we, too, can work miracles by loving Jesus and keeping his commandments.