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Fifth Week of Easter

John 13: 31-33, 34-35

When we make our thanksgiving after Holy Communion if there are three words that Jesus longs to hear from us, they are “I love you.” Am I right in saying that so often when we make our thanksgiving we make so many requests for things we want; we pour out all our problems asking the help of the Lord, and we forget to say those simple words, “I love you.” Those are the words Jesus wants to hear.

How often do we say those words to the people who are very close to us? These words are both a bane and a blessing. The blessing is that we all need to hear them. The bane is that these words can be cheapened by repetition and have lost their meaning.

The first time a young woman hears these words from the young man she loves and admires, they can be magic. That night as she rests her head on her pillow, she contemplates the wonder of those three little words. Years later, after repeated experiences of neglect and abuse, she can hear those same words, and not be moved at all. In fact, she may even feel insulted and confused, because she no longer knows what they mean.

Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady” once sang, “If you’re in love, show me.” In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said essentially the same thing. It was said during His last moments with His Apostles when He was giving them their final instructions. Part of what He said was, “Love one another.” To make sure that He did not want them to mistake how to love He added, “Just as I have loved you.” Jesus couldn’t have made any clearer how we were to love. It is a good thing for a husband or a wife to say to each other the words, “I love you”; for children to say to their parents these words and for lovers to do the same. These words by themselves are not enough. Interflora used to have the advertising slogan, “Say it with flowers.” Flowers are nice, but they are not enough. The only real way for you and me to say, “I love you” is with deeds.

That is how Jesus loved His disciples. He told them the truth. He never deceived them about anything. Without this basic honesty, all our protestations of love mean absolutely nothing. We must start with that, or it will be impossible ever to build a lasting relationship with anyone. Two people will never become friends, if they habitually deceive one another. It will mean leaving an open trail. Tell your wife where you are really going, where you will be staying, and how she can reach you. If those words, “I love you”, are to have any true meaning, they must be backed up with the truth.

Next, we must say those words with kindness. Jesus was always kind to His disciples. He could be firm with them when the occasion called for it, but He was never unkind. He encouraged, complemented and forgave. At times, He would correct their attitudes or their actions, but He never launched a personal attack against any of them. He never spoke an insulting word to them. That is to be the pattern which we are to follow in loving one another. That’s what He meant when He said, “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

Kindness seems like such a little thing, easily within the reach of everyone. There are times when it requires thought and effort. We must be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Will what we are to say or do inflict needless pain? If the answer is yes, then we must leave that word unspoken or that deed undone. What we are doing is to implement the golden rule - treat others as you would have them treat you. That is kindness, and we cannot truly say, “I love you” without it.

Together with the words, “I love you” we must be prepared to make sacrifices. Jesus set us that example. By dying He made the ultimate sacrifice to save us. He also made many less dramatic ones. He gave His time. We are told that some days He worked so hard that there wasn’t even any time for Him to eat. He gave His energy. On one occasion as He crossed the Sea of Galilee in a boat He fell asleep. He had spent His energy and was obviously exhausted. It is the very nature of love to sacrifice oneself for others.

You cannot say you love your wife, if you seldom or never subordinate your wishes to hers. Nor can you love your children, if you seldom or never change your plans to spend time with them. We cannot say we love the poor, if we never forgo luxuries in order to help with their necessities.

I remember reading a book about an Irish woman called Christine Noble. She went to Ho Chi Minh City in 1989. Her purpose for going was to help the hundreds of orphans who roamed the streets. She fed them, gave them shelter and a school to attend. Her work was televised. The camera showed a close up of one frail little boy in a bed. The newscaster said, “We can only hope that this little fellow never learns where he came from. Someone found him stuffed in a dustbin.” No one need ask if Christine Noble loved those street urchins of Ho Chi Minh City. She said, “I love you” to all those unfortunate children in the most convincing way possible – with personal sacrifice.

Lord Jesus, let us remember that there is only one way to say, “I love you” and that is with deeds.

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