John 13:13-33a, 34-35
People who know me know I like old music. There was a song written by Cole Porter almost 80 years ago called "Anything Goes."’One of the song’s lyrics is: "The world has gone mad today/ and good’s bad today/ and black’s white today/ and day’s night today… anything goes." The song was meant to be humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but there are many of us who might wonder what is going on in our world today, and how can it be stopped, so that things can return to the way they used to be. Often we look to the past not only for nostalgia’s sake, but because it can seem to be much better than the times in which we live.
I bring all this up because our Scripture readings for Sunday speak about the "new." In our second reading from Revelation (21:1-5a), John has a vision of a "new heaven and a new earth," with a "new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." Our reading ends with John’s vision of the "One" on the throne saying, "Behold, I make all things new." In our Gospel reading (John 13:31-33a, 34-35), Jesus tells His disciples, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." Our first reading from Acts (14:21-27) does not have the word "new" in it, but as the account goes, when Paul and Barnabas arrive in Antioch, they gather the church together and report "what God had done with them and how he opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." Again, a realization that something new was happening in the church.
There may be some who are disturbed by many of the new things that they see, and reading this may be thinking, "Come on, Father, you know the ‘new’ mentioned in these Scriptures is not the ‘new’ I’m thinking about. There is no good in what is new today."
But is that really true? It seems to me that we need to discern what might be good or bad in what is new today. When we discern, we need to remember that the kingdom of God is not to be confused with what is, nor with what was. What might have been the "good old days" for me might have been a time of hardship and injustice for others. We can debate endlessly about some of these points, and how we go about discerning whether something new is beneficial or not.
Perhaps the best thing we can do, and what could help our discernment, is to follow the "new" commandment that Jesus gives us: "love one another." This commandment has been passed down to us over thousands of years, but it is still "new." It is still new because we are often tempted to let the wisdom of the world define what it really means. We often let it be limited by greed and anger and prejudice and fear. And so we can find ourselves thinking, "Well, to ‘love one another’ doesn’t mean loving them."
But to "love one another" is to love them or him or her. To love others as Jesus loves us is to go beyond what might be considered reasonable. To dismiss the "new" as all bad actually limits the power and activity of God. Can we really say that God is only present in, for lack of a better term, the "old?" Does not our spiritual development often come from the revelation of something "new" to us, some new insight we have received?
It is true that not all that is new is good. It is true that even though we may have the capacity to do this or that doesn’t mean that we should go ahead and do it (the use of weapons of mass destruction come to mind). But these truths should not point us towards trying to turn back the clock. Somehow we must take those truths which we believe are universal and eternal into today’s world, and communicate them to today’s people, and be able to recognize them when they are revealed (which they sometimes are) in things that are new.
When we are willing to take the risk and love as Jesus loves, we will be helping build up the kingdom, looking for the day when the "old order" of greed and selfishness and seeking domination will have "passed away," and "God’s dwelling is with the human race."
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.