Sixth Sunday of Easter
What is salvation? Is it perhaps being saved from the eternal pains of hell? Or perhaps being liberated from the snare of some sin, addiction, enslavement? Is it perhaps “making it” to heaven, and then doing whatever one wants? There is a way in which each of these responses could be correctly construed, but not if one understands them in a self-centered, individualistic way. The horizon that Jesus points to in today’s Gospel leaves behind any self-referential understanding of salvation by pointing to what Jesus really wants to offer us: his own life. But this life is not something that we can grasp ahold of and then walk away with as if it were some prize, whether for good behavior (“works”) or for believing the right thing (“faith”). The salvation that Jesus offers is that of being ransomed in order to finally begin to love God as one ought. “Give me only the grace to love you,” Ignatius says in an early text of his Suscipe (“Take, Lord, receive”) prayer.
Jesus affirms, “whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). If we love Jesus, then we can no longer live for ourselves; we can no longer claim a private existence. For if one truly loves Jesus, the Father will love that person, and, through the Holy Spirit, that person becomes a dwelling for the Father and the Son. We do not, then, “escape” to some heavenly Jerusalem where God abides, but rather the New Jerusalem itself descends from heaven to us (Rev 21:2). The fullness of this reality is offered to us only after a great struggle, which we witness throughout the book of Revelation and indeed, throughout the Bible itself. This struggle is, first of all, God’s struggle for us, manifest through the Son’s earthly life. It is through this struggle that we are enabled to love truly, which is our sharing in the divine life that we are offered through the Holy Spirit. But what does this divine life look like when lived through a human life? Nirvana? No. That is another religion’s vision. The divine life lived out in our own human life will look like the human life of Jesus, wherein the eternally begotten Son fully lives out his divine life for us. If we, by God’s grace, love as God loves because God dwells within us, then our life will take on something of the cruciform majesty of Jesus’ own love.
Jesus can do what he wants, and what he wants to do is to give his life for those whom he loves (especially those persons whom we find least lovable). The Christian heaven is something that we can taste on earth, if what we most desire is to love as Jesus loves, which is to say, to give one’s life freely in order to love the one whom we find most difficult to love. We can say that in heaven Christians will do whatever they want, but if they are truly Christians in a Christian heaven, then what they will want to do there is to give themselves and live for others, out of love, as Jesus does. Let us ask God for this grace, for if our desires can be conformed to Jesus’ desires, then we will find that, on earth, too, we may have the privilege of “doing what we want,” that is, loving as Christ loves.