No greater love than this

No greater love than this

Good Friday, Year B (John 18:1-19:42)
March 30, 2018

By Fr. Sal Putzu, SDB

WE are fond of measuring everything. We measure distances in meters or yards; we measure weights in kilograms or pounds; we measure electricity in watts and the frequency of magnetic bands in hertzes. We have even learned how to measure the intelligence of a person in order to determine his/her IQ . . . . But can we measure love?

Lovers may think, for a time, that love can be measured by the number of kisses they exchange, or the number of times they see or text each other. But eventually they come to realize the inadequacy of such “units of measure,” for the depth and width of genuine love go far, far beyond what can be expressed or measured in kisses or various types of “love messages.”

A sure way to measure the genuineness of love and its intensity was given by Jesus Christ when he said: “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). This essentially means that we can measure the intensity and genuineness of a person’s love by the amount of sacrifice he/she is prepared to make for the beloved.

When we see people going to work very early in the morning and coming back dead tired in the evening, day in, day out, even though sometimes they may not feel to be in the best shape, we know what genuine love is. Their sacrifices are the measure of their love for the other members of their families. Those parents who do overtime to earn a little more in order to pay for the tuition of their children are surely proving their love for them. Those who renounce going out with friends in order to stay with their elderly parents who are confined to a wheelchair or need constant attention, surely show how deep and sincere their love for their parents is . . .

And there are even some who, literally, give their life for the person(s) they love. We all know of parents, and especially mothers, who have given their life for their children. We know of thousands of soldiers who have given their lives for their country. Several years ago we heard of the hundreds of American firefighters who lost their lives in their effort to rescue the victims of the World Trade Center. We admire them all. This is the utmost, for there is nothing more one can give after having offered one’s life.

Jesus Christ belongs to this category of heroes, but he has outranked them all in at least two ways. First of all, he offered his life not just for many or even thousands of people, but for all human beings of all generations, from the very first who lived on earth to the very last who will see the end of the world. And considering that his love is absolutely “personalized” we can conclude that no one “has loved unto death” as many people as Jesus did.

But there is more – something no one else has ever done: Jesus loved intensely and gave his life on the cross even for his own enemies! He offered his life for the salvation even of those who hated him during his earthly life, those who did not have peace till they wrested from Pilate his death sentence by crucifixion; those who insulted him while he was agonizing on the cross. He offered his life also for the millions of others who, over the centuries, would betray or reject him, insult and profane him in the Blessed Eucharist . . .

Amazingly, he knew and endured in advance the most bitter taste of every drop of their hatred! And yet, in spite of all this, he still loved them tenderly and offered his life for each of them as for the dearest friend.

This is what brought St. Paul (one of the beneficiaries of Christ’s love for his enemies) to exclaim: “It is precisely in this that God proves His love for us: that while we were still sinners (i.e., God’s enemies), Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

Indeed, there has never been, nor will there ever be on earth a greater love than that of Jesus Christ, who “Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave . . . . And it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8)

Applying this universal truth to himself, Paul wrote the vibrant sentence: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20)—a memorable, unforgettable statement which each of us should make his/her own and sign with tears of grateful love.