Commentaries on Acts 1:15-17,20-26; Ps 112; John 15:9-17
The First Reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles and recounts the choosing of Matthias to fill the vacant place left by the treachery and death of Judas. As explained in the short ‘biography’ above, this took place soon after the Ascension of Jesus but before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (following the timetable of Luke in the Acts).
Matthias (who may have been one of the 72 disciples mentioned by Luke in his gospel) then took over with the other Eleven the responsibility of an Apostle, which was to hand on, with accuracy and in its entirety, the message of Jesus’ life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection as the Incarnate Son of God. This is what we now call ‘Tradition’ with a capital ‘T’. There were, of course, later traditions which became part of the life of the Church which did not have the status of Apostolic Tradition.
Perhaps the very heart of that Tradition is expressed in the Gospel reading. It is part of the long discourse at the Last Supper which is recorded for us in John. It begins with Jesus saying: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” The word for ‘love’ throughout the passage in the original Greek is agape (’agaph). This is a very special kind of love. It is not a grasping, clinging love. On the contrary, it is an outreaching love, unconditionally wanting the wellbeing of the other. This is the love which the Father extends to Jesus and it is the love that Jesus extends to us. And we are to ‘stay’, remain (a favourite Johannine word) in that agape-love.
And how are we to stay in that love? We do it by keeping the commandments of Jesus, just as Jesus himself remains in his Father’s love by keeping his Father’s commandments. And what are these commandments? They are not the Commandments of the Old Testament; in fact, there is only one which is all-embracing. “This is my commandment: Agape-love one another as I have agape-loved you.” The whole of the Gospel, the whole of the teaching of Jesus is there. If that was all we had of the Gospel, it would be enough.
And Jesus goes further: “No one has greater agape-love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” A degree of love which Jesus will soon show. And who are his friends? “You are my friends, if you do what I command you,” that is, all those who unconditionally agape-love their brothers and sisters. And if that is the measure of Jesus’ love for us, it is also to be the measure of our love for others. If we all kept this commandment, our world would be transformed! We would become a world of people who spent their lives caring for each other’s needs.
But there is another definition of Jesus’ friends. “I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” And the most precious thing he has told us is that central command of agape-love. To have heard that message is a huge privilege but also a huge responsibility. Because it is a message that the whole world needs to hear. As Jesus put it himself: “By this will all know that you are my followers, that you have agape-love for one another.” This is to be the distinctive mark of our communities. Would it describe mine?
This is the message that Matthias and his fellow-Apostles inherited and which they passed on. It is for us to spread the same message and it is done most effectively not by words but by the witness of our interacting life together.