Receiving the Fullness of Joy
I wanted to focus on a promise made by Jesus in today’s gospel. He says that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. I feel this is rather important because we live in a world that is going through a lot of challenges. We’ve been dealing with the pandemic, with isolation and loneliness, with societal and political division, and many feeling depressed and anxious. So, what is this joy Jesus is talking about, and how do we get some?
First, I want to begin with an old European story, which recognizes that inner joy is a powerful force that can shield us from a lot of things that can do us harm. See what you think…
A traveler came upon a barn where the devil stored seeds that he planned to sow in the hearts of people. There were bags of seeds variously marked “Hatred,” “Fear,” “Lust,” “Despair,” “Unforgiveness,” “Envy,” “Greed”…
Out from the shadows, the devil suddenly appeared and struck up a conversation with the traveler. He gleefully told the traveler how easily the seeds sprouted in the hearts of men and women everywhere.
“Tell me,” the traveler asked, “are there any hearts in which these seeds will not sprout?” Glancing about carefully, the devil slyly confessed, “These seeds will never sprout in the heart of a kind, generous, thankful and joy-filled person.”
So, having a heart full of kindness, generosity, thankfulness and joy can be a vaccine against everything that knocks us down and makes us feel lousy about ourselves. So, how do we get this joy, a joy that “makes us complete,” as Jesus promises?
Notice what he says: “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.”
I recently read an article that argues that we can succeed in loving as Jesus did because God created us to love. Thus, the commandment is not some arbitrary, external directive, imposed on us from the outside. Rather, love is part of the inner structure of who we are—a given, sort of like gravity, or the speed of light. When we love each other well, when we love in the right way, then we are in alignment with the way God made us. It’s our nature to love. I am reminded of the old saying that you have to be taught to hate; we’re not born to hate.
So, Jesus says that, when we love as he has loved, then we will not be in competition or contradiction with who we truly are. When we tell the truth in love, when we offer each other encouragement and support, when we sacrifice for others, when we reach out in love to the stranger, the marginalized the forgotten and the lost…all of these actions connect us to God and fill us with joy.
But when we hold back from love, when we insist on always winning and being right, when we turn up our noses at certain people and write them off as inferior or unworthy of our concern, then we’re living contrary to love, out of sync with the way God made us.
Since we are celebrating Mother’s Day, I want to honor motherhood and to give thanks to mothers, grandmothers, mentors and role models who teach love by loving. Here’s one mother’s way of describing her gift…
I give you my love which means that I accept you, without reservation, just as you are and will be.
I give you my personal presence in order that you will have security.
I give you my ears, in the sense that I will never be too busy to listen to you.
I give you my counsel only when it is necessary or you ask for it, so that you might avoid some of the mistakes I have made.
I give you my consolation when you have failed or feel discouraged, but I will not always protect you from the consequences of your sins.
I give you instruction in the way of the Lord so that when you are older, you will not depart from it.
I give you my daily prayers that the Lord will keep you and guide you…
This I give you with all my love.
There’s an old Jewish proverb that God couldn’t be everywhere, so he invented mothers. And mothers, grandmothers, mentors and role models, though not necessarily perfect, give us love that is stronger than the force of gravity, a love that is like God’s love, a love that fills our hearts with kindness, generosity, thankfulness and joy. It’s the love for which we were created.