MEMORIAL OF SAINT JOHN NEUMANN, BISHOP
1 John 3:11-21
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Anyone who loves is of God because God is love itself. St. John outlines this clearly for us in his letter, saying that there are those who love and those who do not. Another way of saying this is that there are those who belong to God and those who belong to the evil one. Another way of saying this is that there are those who seek to give life and those who seek to take it.
Now, this may feel like an extreme measure. How can we say that there are those who love, who belong to God, and those who give life, and those who belong to the evil one, who do not love, and who take life? Don’t most people seem to fall somewhere in the middle? Which one of us is perfectly loving all the time? Don’t we all sin and fall short of the glory of God? Does each and every little sin make us a murderer?
While it feels extreme, it is no less the truth. Goodness is a path and not a spectrum. A soul does not transition from one end of the spectrum to the other, becoming less evil and becoming more good. Rather, a soul can change from one path, a path of death and selfishness, to a path of goodness, a path of love, of life, and of selflessness. Like changing trains, the two lines do not go to the same destination. However, no matter where you are on the path, you are still either on the path toward God, or you are on the path that leads to everlasting death. These paths have different essences, meaning that the end is in the beginning. The path of goodness will lead you to heaven, as long as you stay on it, and the path of death will lead you to hell and never redirect you of its own volition. Either you are purposefully moving toward God, or you are not.
In our Gospel, Nathanael is a good example of one who belongs to God. God’s truth lives in him, which is why he is instantly able to recognize God when he meets Jesus. Like Nathanael, we are called to allow God’s love and God’s truth to live in us. When we do that, when we love his truth, when we love his commandments, and when we love our neighbors, we will not be confused about what love is. We will recognize love, we will recognize the good life that God desires for us, and we will be able to recognize God when he lives in us.