Year B – 6th Sunday of Easter

On Agape Love

(Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1Jn.4:7-10; Jn.15:9-17)

We all need love, don’t we? So many of us dream about it, write about it, sing about it, read about it, talk about it, work for it and cry over it.

Many years ago, teaching English, my most popular lesson was on the language of love. The students were so fascinated by the words we use for love that they didn’t want to go home.

This desire for love is deeply embedded in us all. We’re all made to love, and we all need to be loved. We can see this in our families and friends. If they feel unloved, we know they’re unhappy. If we feel unloved, we are unhappy.

Where does love come from? St John the Evangelist tells us: it comes from God. Love isn’t something God does, however. He is actually love itself (1Jn.4:7-8). And because we’re all made in God’s image and likeness, we, too, are meant to live lives of love. Not sometimes, but always.

Church tradition tells us that St John was still preaching well into his 90s. When he was too frail to walk, he was carried into church, and every week he gave the same sermon: ‘My dear children, love one another’. That’s all he said.

One day, someone asked him, ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ John replied: ‘Because that’s the Lord’s command. And if that’s all we do, it’s enough.’ [i]

This command to love is in John’s Gospel today, and it immediately follows Jesus’ Parable of the Vine and Branches, which we heard last week. Clearly, love is the fruit Jesus wants us all to produce.

But what kind of love does he mean? The Bible mentions four different kinds and in Greek, each has a different name. [ii] Storge (‘Storjay’) is family love. Eros is sensual and passionate love, and Philia is close friendship or brotherly love.

Agape (‘Aga-pay’), however, is the supreme kind of love and the one Jesus calls us to. It’s holy love. It’s the way Jesus loves his Father, and the way God loves us all.  John uses the word ‘agape’ when he says that ‘God is love’ (1Jn.4:8).

Agape love is selfless, like Jesus humbly washing the feet of his disciples (Jn.13:1-17).

It’s unconditional, like the way that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God (Rom.8:38-39).

It’s merciful, like the way the Father warmly welcomes his Prodigal Son, despite all his foolishness (Lk.15:11-32).

And it’s sacrificial, like the way Jesus accepts a painful death on the Cross instead of abandoning us.

Agape love is serious love. St Teresa of Calcutta understood it well. She saw the face of Jesus in everyone she met, and she cared deeply for the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. It was hard work, but by staying close to Jesus she always received the graces she needed to keep going.

During World War One, a soldier asked his commanding officer for permission to go into ‘No Man’s Land’ to rescue a badly wounded friend.

‘You can go,’ said the officer, ‘but it’s not worth it. He’s probably dead already and you’re risking your life.’ 

The soldier did go, and somehow managed to retrieve his friend. They both tumbled back into their trench. Watching this, the officer said to the soldier, ‘I told you it wasn’t worth it. Your friend is dead, and you’re badly wounded’.

‘But it was worth it, sir,’ the soldier said.

‘How do you mean, “worth it”? Your friend is dead,’ the officer said.

‘Yes, sir,’ the soldier replied, ‘but it was worth it, because when I got to him, he was alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’”

Agape is selfless, unconditional, merciful and sacrificial love. It seeks nothing in return.

This weekend, as we celebrate Mothers’ Day, we are deeply grateful to our wonderful mothers, not only for giving us life, but also for giving us so much Agape love. Let’s close with Rudyard Kipling’s short poem Mother o’ Mine (1891):

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

May we, too, truly live lives of Agape love.

[i] St Jerome, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, 6:10.

[ii] C.S. Lewis explains these terms in his book The Four Loves, Harcourt, Brace: New York, 1960

Year B – 5th Sunday of Easter

On the Great Vine

(Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn.3:18-24; Jn.15:1-8)

In 1768, two years before Captain Cook found Australia, the English landscape architect Capability Brown planted a grapevine at Hampton Court Palace in London. [i]

Today, 253 years later, the Great Vine (as it’s known) is the oldest and largest grapevine in the world. It measures 4 metres around its base, its longest arm is 36.5 metres long and it’s still producing plenty of good fruit. Why? Because it’s lovingly trained, trimmed and nourished every year.

That’s the metaphor Jesus uses in John’s Gospel today. He’s speaking to his disciples just after the Last Supper, and he knows it’s his last chance to teach them, for soon he’ll be crucified.

Jesus warns his disciples that great trials are coming, but they must stay strong in the faith. ‘I am the vine, God is the vinedresser and you are the branches,’ he says.

Through our Baptism, each of us is joined to Jesus. We become branches of his vine, but we need to stay connected to him and keep drawing nourishment from him if we are to grow and thrive.

This is what happens to Paul in today’s first reading. After persecuting the Church, he receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion (Acts 9:10-21) and he becomes an incredibly powerful and fruitful branch of Jesus’ vine.   

As Christians, we, too, are expected to bear fruit. After all, that’s what grapevines are supposed to do. But if a branch produces nothing, there’s a problem. It’s either dead, diseased, or poorly connected to the vine, and the vinedresser needs to cut it off.

Indeed, even if a branch is healthy and bears good fruit, sometimes it still needs to be carefully trimmed to make it stronger and more productive.

This is an important lesson for us. Jesus is saying that even if we are good Christians, God will still cut us back occasionally to help us become stronger and more fruitful.

In other words, we need to see our hardships through the eyes of faith. Our sufferings and trials may be painful, but God is using them to shape us and help us become better people (Heb.12:4-11).

And here’s another insight. Richard Leonard says that we might claim to be Christians and go to church every Sunday, but if the fruit we produce is bitter or poisonous; if we are unforgiving, unjust and uncaring, then we cannot claim to be on the vine of Christ’s love.

If this is the case, he says, then we desperately need the gentle hand of the vinedresser, who only wants to see us produce the yield he knows we are capable of achieving.

But here’s the point: God won’t judge us simply by our words or by the public face we put on. He’ll judge us by our acts of kindness, compassion and love. [ii] For ‘it’s by their fruits you shall know them’ Jesus says (Mt.7:16).

So, what are these fruits? Paul tells us: they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22). These are the fruits we can expect to produce if we stay connected to Jesus.

And how might we stay connected? By truly loving God and each other; by being actively involved in the life of his Church, and by making time for daily prayer and reflection.

La Dolce Vita (Cineriz, 1960). Italian 4 - Foglio (53" X 77.25").. | Lot  #86314 | Heritage Auctions

Let’s close with the story of Frederico Fellini’s classic movie, La Dolce Vita (1960).

The film opens with a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus across Rome, followed by a second helicopter carrying a writer named Marcello. Marcello was raised as a country boy, but wants a ‘sweet life’ full of excitement, so he moves to the big city.

There, he finds himself seduced by the seven deadly sins, and he becomes disconnected from his roots. He loses his faith and all his hopes fade into emptiness.

As the film ends, there’s a powerful scene where Marcello is alone on the beach, looking down at a large dead fish washed up on the shore. Cut off from the sea and its source of life, that fish has died.

Fellini ends the movie there, leaving us to make the connection between the dead, decaying fish and the empty, faithless and cut-off Marcello.

12 Fillini ideas | film stills, juliet of the spirits, film

Some people today are like that fish on the shore; they are like Marcello who has lost his faith. They are branches that have separated from Jesus’ great vine, thinking they can go it alone.[iii]

But as Jesus tells us, ‘Whoever remains in me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty. But cut off from me you can do nothing.

‘Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that is thrown away – he withers.’


[ii] Richard Leonard SJ, Preaching to the Converted. Paulist Press, NY. 2006:170-171.

[iii] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel. Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT. 2011:134.