“I Lay It Down on My Own”
4th Sunday of Easter (B); April 29, 2012
Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
Deacon Jim McFadden; Divine Savior C.C. & Folsom Prison
Two lovers look at one another and say without any reservation: “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life” (Rite of Marriage (Roman Catholic), #25).
A father holds his newborn daughter and from some vastness within him says, “I would die for you.”
(for the prison) A friend holds the hand of a terminally ill “cellie”
and says, “Don’t worry; I’m not going away.”
When we first hear the phrase “unconditional love,” it seems a beyond-reach ideal—something that can only be attained in heaven. But actually we all have moments of unconditional love. In these moments we open ourselves unreservedly to another and commit ourselves totally to the others’ well-being. Like Jesus in John’s gospel, we often reach for “laying down our life” language to express what, at this moment, seems so clear and undeniable to us. Unconditional love means everything and is forever. We know it’s possible because Jesus has done it for us and, as the Body of Christ, the Church, we are simultaneously called to do the same.
Let’s look at this passage closely: 17 “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
Unconditional love necessarily entails laying down one’s life for the other. It’s important that we get this right because this passage touches on the meaning of redemption. Sadly, there are some people who believe that Jesus paid the price to earn the Father’s love. Some people believe that Jesus paid the price to convince his Father that we were worth loving, which tells us that the Father does not love us very much and ends up making the Father a ogre, who demands blood money before he’s going to love his children.
Jesus is not proving himself to the Father; he’s not convincing his Father that we’re lovable; he’s not paying some kind of blood money, where the Father sees it and says, “O.K., I’m convinced; I’ll allow these people into heaven.” That could never be, because the Father is perfect Love, which does not break or cause pain but rather heals and transforms the other.
When Jesus died on the Cross, he is revealing to us that the Cross is somehow already in the heart of the Father. The Father is the unconditional Lover and Jesus is the beloved Son who is receiving the Father’s love. The Son is becoming for the world Who the Father eternally has been. The Son is becoming in space and time who the Father is. That’s why Jesus is also known as Immanuel: God is with us. Sisters and brothers, love is simply redemptive, healing us at our very core; self-giving is redemptive and Jesus is God’s self-giving in the world. As John would say in 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for our salvation.” When we enter into this unconditioned loving energy through Christ, uniquely present in the Eucharist, we’re becoming liberated, redeemed, and freed. Jesus lays down his life of his own free will because he has seen the Father do the same for him for all eternity. No other life than self-giving is real, true—it is being who the Father is.
So, it is with us. The understanding of who we are as the beloved children of God, who are the People of God, the Church, challenges us to keep our visionary commitment to “love all the days of my life” and “till death do us part.” We continue to gaze on our children, grandchildren, and friends and reaffirm that just as Jesus has done for me, I will do for you: I lay my life down for you.