THEME: A NEW EARTH, A NEW COMMANDMENT
READINGS: Acts 14:21-27/ Revelation 21:1-5 / John 13:31-35
5th Sunday of Easter
According to today’s second reading, St. John ‘saw a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev. 21:1). The inhabitants of the new heaven and the new earth live by a new commandment: they love as Jesus Christ has loved us. Thus, Christ says in today’s gospel reading: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you’ (John 13:34).
Citizens of the new earth eventually become inhabitants of the new heaven. Therefore, this homily focuses on the new earth. The theme of a new heaven will be considered another time.
A NEW EARTH
The use of the word ‘new’ in the context of the first reading refers to an exceedingly better earth. Can the physical earth of today be called the new earth? It could be called the new earth provided the land, mountains, seas, rivers, air, etc. of today are better than they were when St. John had the vision of the new earth about 2,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the contrary is true; for we have degraded and polluted the physical earth over the centuries; and we are living with the serious consequences of climate change and global warming.
So, what then is the new earth? Do the great developments in science and technology indicate the presence of a new earth? Not at all; for how can we claim to be living in a better world where annually we invest trillions of dollars in the research, manufacturing and trading of increasingly devastating weapons? How can this be the new earth, where annually tens of thousands are killed in wars and other forms of conflicts? How can this be the new earth, if Christians and others cannot worship in peace – where innocent worshippers have become targets of terrorists? …where millions have been displaced by wars and other acts of violence? …where millions go hungry every day, even though there is more than enough food for all? …where justice is denied many? Etc.
So, what then is the new earth that St. John saw? The life, ministry, passion and resurrection of Christ provide us with a good picture of the new earth. And this picture is summarized in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) and in the parable of the ‘Last Judgment’ (Matt. 25:31-45). Let us now have a glimpse of the new earth.
Firstly, it is an earth where there is peace, instead of war; remember the repeated greetings of the risen Lord Jesus when He first appeared to the apostles: ‘Peace be with you!’ Therefore, ‘Blessed are those who work for peace, for they shall be called children of God’ (Matt. 5:9).
Secondly, the new earth is where there is mercy, instead of revenge; remember the Lord’s command: ‘Be merciful as your [heavenly] Father is merciful’ (Luke 6:36). Indeed, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy’ (Matt. 5:7).
Thirdly, it is a place where people are pure of heart. In other words, it is a place where people are sincere in worship and honest in dealing with one other. Indeed, ‘Blessed are those with a pure heart, for they shall see God’ (Matt. 5:8).
Fourthly, it is a place where people are gentle, instead of aggressive. Thus, the Lord edifies us: ‘Blessed are the gentle, for they shall possess the land’ (Matt. 5:5).
Fifthly, the new earth is a place where all enjoy true justice; for ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matt. 5:6).
Sixthly, it is a place where the hungry are adequately fed, the thirsty are satisfied, strangers are truly strangers and they are welcomed, the naked are clothed, the sick are cared for and prisoners are catered for (cf. Matt. 25:34-41). This is because in the new earth, the rich and the poor are both ‘poor in spirit [and] theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:3).
A NEW COMMANDMENT
In short, then, the new earth is where there is peace, mercy, purity of heart, gentleness, justice for all, and the poor and needy are catered for, etc. This is so, because the inhabitants of the new earth live in accordance with the new commandment of Christ: they love as He has loved us. In other words, just as gravity keeps the physical earth in motion, so the new commandment of love keeps the new earth in existence.
If we love as Christ has loved us, we will not seek material wealth at the expense of the environment and ultimately at the expense of billions of poor people. On the contrary, the wellbeing of all people and the sustenance of the environment will be our primary concerns.
If we love as Christ has loved us, we will not use science and technology to destroy others. On the contrary, we will use them to solve the problems of hunger, disease, etc.
Therefore, beloved, let us make the love that Christ has shown us the motivation and yardstick of our love for others and we will begin to enjoy the new earth, the experience of which prepares us for the eternal experience of the new heaven.
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis
Credit: Coming Home is a painting by Danny Hahlbohm