The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Imagine the scene. The place is the upper room; and the time is that of the Last Supper. Jesus speaks to his disciples, and says: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love…this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
With the hindsight of the cross, it’s unmistakable to us that Jesus, here, is speaking of sacrifice. Yet, even now, as Jesus nears the end of his earthly ministry we have the impression that the disciples still aren’t really certain what he’s talking about. And, to a good extent, we can’t blame them. The cross isn’t yet in their line of vision. So, I imagine them nodding their heads in agreement, but remaining unclear as to how this talk of love and sacrifice might truly relate to them. They hear, and remember these words, but I am certain that at this moment they are thinking these instructions are for a time far in the future rather than this night in which they are gathered to break bread and drink the cup. But aware or not, Jesus is preparing them for a future that will arrive sooner than they anticipate. They are being taught that Love begets love. As we look at the lives of the disciples after that first Easter morning, we see this lesson played out in the rest of their lives and ministries. Abiding in the love of Christ means that love begets love.
The situation facing Samantha Rodriguez is a fine example. In 2019, Samantha was 21, and raising her five siblings after both of her parents died from cancer. Her parents died when she was seventeen—so, by 2019, she had experienced four years of parenting her youngest siblings.
The family’s mother, Lisa, died from cancer in 2013, leaving their father, Alexander, to take care of the family. However, he fell ill with what turned out to be lymphoma. He died three years later and suddenly, Samantha was responsible for the lives and well being of her siblings: Destiny, Bella, Michael, Brenda and Milagros.
Samantha says: “My reality (was) I’m 17 but these are my brothers and sisters, and when I looked at them, I knew that they’re children,” Rodriguez said. “They’re vulnerable and they need an adult, so I became their adult.”
The family lives in Florida. Samantha is responsible for daily tasks such as providing meals, taking her siblings to school, doctor’s appointments, sports practices and helping with homework. In addition to handling the kids and household, she also goes to college part-time and waitresses.
Despite the hardships she and her family have faced, she’s taken it on with a positive outlook. She says: “I get a lot of that strength from my mother. I spent a lot of time with her and I admired her so much. When we lost her, I knew that I wanted to be just like her in every way,” she added “That’s what I wanted to do for the kids.” Love begets love.
In many ways, love is learned, and it comes from the experience of being loved. Sometimes that love comes from parents, at other times it comes from people who have become close to us. The Gospel teaches us that all love is rooted in God, for God is love. Harken back to last week’s image of Jesus as the vine—and ourselves as the branches. Think of love as the sap that runs through the limbs of a tree. What this means is that you can’t be part of the vine without experiencing love. In a very real sense, by being part of the vine, you are rooted in the love of God.
In today’s Gospel Jesus presents us with a wonderful sequence: the Father loves the Son. The Son loves us. We love each other. In other words, when we are loving to one another in deeds of service and sacrifice, we can draw a straight and direct line from that love all the way back to God. And here we discover the practical aspect of what it means to abide—abiding in love means keeping the commandments—ultimately, abiding is the means to a rich and joyful life. Not, mind you, a life without pain, struggle or suffering—but a rich and joyful life nonetheless. A life of being rooted into the very love of God.
Being part of the vine means that we carry God’s love with us always—and that even in those moments of hardship and suffering, we are still part of that larger vine which provides us nourishment and sustenance in times of difficulty and pain.
We experience being part of that vine in many ways. Samantha Rodriguez speaks of some of the lessons she learned from her parents: “They showed us not to take anything for granted. That’s something I try to teach the kids…. At the end of the day, the material things don’t matter. What’s given can be taken away so fast.”
Samantha helped take care of her parents when they fell ill, even dropping out of school…. After their deaths, she returned to school to earn her high school diploma, saying she wanted to show her siblings the importance of an education. She says, “When I realized that I wanted the kids to finish (school) and that I wanted them to be successful, I (realized) I needed to give them that example and show them.”
As Christians, we look to Jesus to be our example of what it means to love others. As he speaks to his disciples, Jesus tells them: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus is telling us that the fruit of love (the fruit of abiding in the vine) is abundant joy. The goal is a joy that fulfills itself in love.
Samantha ended her ended her interview with ABC News by saying: “This is what makes me, me. It makes me so happy to be with them and to be there for them…”
In the end, Love is what makes us ourselves—the people we are intended to be. This love comes from God, and we find it when we learn what it means to abide in the vine. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that Love begets love. There is no finer way to speak about what living the Resurrection is all about. In Jesus’ name. Alleluia. Amen.