What are Jesus’ commandments?
In a famous passage of his Confessions, St Augustine wrote: ‘Give what you command, and command what you will’. God’s commands are not given without his grace.
Reading: John 15.9-11
The following homily was preached to the student brothers during compline. You can listen here or read below:
What are Jesus’ commandments? Ask this question, and people usually answer: ‘Love one another’, or, ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (the ‘Golden Rule’). In fact, more of the Gospel commandments are things like, ‘Talitha qum’ – ‘Little girl, get up’; or ‘Your sins are forgiven you; go in peace’; or, ‘take up your bed and walk’; or, ‘be cleansed’. The command of love as reported by John is in fact, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. Jesus tells his disciples to take up their cross – but to follow him in doing so.
When we were infants, we could not give anything in return for the love of our fathers and mothers. That love had to be given with no expectation of a return, even when we sulked and screamed and stank and were recalcitrant. That experience of unconditional love marks us – and please God we all knew it – for it provides each of us into adult life some silent centre-point of inalienable dignity, a deep-down sense that we are loveable and loved. But as we grew, that kind of dignity and assurance alone would not suffice to make us fulfilled, mature human beings. It isn’t enough for us to trust that we may always be carried; we must trust ourselves at some point to walk. Only then have we begun to receive in fulness from our parents, when they ‘educate’ us, ‘lead us out’ into the sphere of responsible adulthood. A good parent knows not just how to give care, but also when to let their children grow, try new things, even fly the nest.
God, we must know, loves us unconditionally. He often carries us, in ways we do not recognise. But there comes a point where he does not just wish to carry – he wishes to give us the use of our legs, to teach us to tie our own shoelaces, and send us on our way, so that we can come back to him fuller and happier children. God’s grace always has the initiative – no doubt. But it is always primed to enable us to work with him. ‘Little girl, get up!’ ‘Take up your bed, your weakness, your paralysis – don’t let it hold you down, but carry it on your way: walk’. And, when we fall, ‘your sins are forgiven you: go, and do not sin again’.
Why couldn’t God just carry us to heaven? What is the point of all this? ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’. Jesus learns to love from the Father, and we learn to love from Jesus. God would have us love with his love, be God to one another. Let me bind up your wounds, brother; let you teach me. That is fulfilling his commands.
Image: Fra’ Angelico, The Conversion of St Augustine. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fra_angelico_-_conversion_de_saint_augustin.jpg)