Gratuitousness – Loving at the manner of Jesus, Fr Salvatore Pacifico, mccj
By Fr Salvatore Pacifico, mccj
I begin with two quotations
Mt 5:20: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of God”. Enter the kingdom of God means to know by experience what the kingdom of God is, to understand reality and life in the way Jesus understands them.
Mk 8: 31-35: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed; and rise after three days. He spoke this openly”. The disciples understood, in fact Peter “began to rebuke him”. But Jesus turned around and, looking at the disciples, rebuked Peter: “Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do”. And he summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up the cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel, will save it”. Deny oneself means “stop thinking of himself”.
We know that love for God and for the neighbour is what matters for Jesus. “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22: 40). But love itself may be of different kind. “I give you a new commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22: 39). “Love one another” (Jn 13: 34). But then he says “As I loved you, so you also should love one another”. This is how all will know that you are my disciples (Jn 13: 34-35). And adds: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15: 12). And he says also “Love your enemy, be perfect as your heavenly Father who makes sun rise on the good and the bad; and the rain fall on the good and on the bad” (Mt 5: 43-48).
LOVING AT THE MANNER OF JESUS
Jesus does not leave things as they are. Where is the newness? It is precisely the gratuitousness. The sign that we are new creatures, the sign that the Gospel has had an impact in us is precisely the ability of loving gratuitously. Jesus and the Father are not conditioned in their dealing with people by how the people are, by the way they correspond to God’s love, their being good or their being bad; their being friends, their being enemies. This was what the Scribes and the Pharisees were doing. This is what the gentiles, the tax collectors and the pagans were doing. What makes the difference is precisely gratuitousness. “It was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5: 38). It was said: “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy”. (Mt 5: 43). The word “mercy” and “be merciful” underlines precisely this: loving somebody that naturally speaking you would not love, because he is a stranger or even an enemy, somebody you would rather exclude. And yet, simply out of your good heart, by the desire that good prevails by all means, by willing the good of the other… This is loving at the manner of Jesus. “That they may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10: 10). And this is what the disciple is called to.
Loving at the manner of Jesus surely means doing good always, even when you receive evil, but it is more than that. Even gratuitousness implies differences. You may do something good to the other, without receiving anything in return, and yet your life is not touched. You may have a lot of money and do a lot of charity and yet your life remains the same. Sure, you renounce to accumulate more, which is part of the human selfishness. But still your life did not suffer. It remained as comfortable as it was. One thing is giving the superfluous, another thing is giving what you need for living yourself. Loving gratuitously may have a cost. (Offering of the poor widow: Lk 21: 1-4}. Jesus’ love had a cost. Actually Jesus became man so that his love could have a cost. Had he not become man, he could have not paid such a cost. “There is no greater love than lying your life for your friends” (Jn 15: 12). Jesus laid down his life for those whom he loved. He paid a cost. As St. Paul says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us… while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5: 8-10)
THE CALL TO DISCIPLESHIP
Mt 4: 18-22 “As he was walking by the sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Peter and Andrew, casting a net into the sea, they were fishermen. He said to them: Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him”.
In Mt 6 Jesus asks the disciples not to perform righteous deeds (praying, giving alms…) in order that people praise them… (v.1 ff). The disciples are instructed not to serve two masters, God and mammon (v. 24), not to be overtaken by cares and anxieties, to seek only the kingdom of God (vv. 25-34). Mt 10 presents how concretely the disciples will fulfil their mission: “Proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand, cure the sick, drive out demons, without cost you have received, without cost you have to give…be simple as doves…be ready to be persecuted, sometimes even by members of your family, be ready to be hated because of my name…” (vv. 7-25). Whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it (v. 39).
Mark says: “He went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed twelve…that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mk 3: 13-15).
Jesus is not trying to embellish the call to make it attractive. On the contrary! Read again Mk 8: 31-35 quoted above. The call to discipleship is a call to be with Jesus and to cooperate in his mission, the mission that he has received from the Father. It implies sharing in his destiny. It is a matter of love for God, for Jesus, for the people, without looking for anything in return. The only promise we find is that they will be fishers of men (Mt 4: 19), a promise whose meaning at that time they did not understand, but later on it became clear that it was not for their benefit but for the benefit of the people.
LOOKING FOR GRATIFICATION: A TEMPTATION FOR THE DISCIPLE
This was the call. It was received in good faith. There is no evidence that there had been resistance on the side of the disciples. We know that Matthew, the tax collector, after the call made a feast, gave a banquet. And yet it is not enough to be numbered among the disciples of Jesus to love at the manner of Jesus. In fact, in a hidden way, consciously or unconsciously, the called person may still have his own motivations and put up his own agenda, different from the one in the mind of the Master.
In Mt 20: 20-21 we read that the mother of John and James approached Jesus to ask “that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom”. In Mark 10: 35-36 the two disciples themselves make the request. And notice that they make the request soon after that Jesus had announced that “The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death” (Mk 10: 33-34). There could have not been a moment less opportune!
Thinking of GRATIFICATION, we my think also of Judas, the extreme case. Judas too had been called, but in the end he sold Jesus with a kiss for 30 pieces of silver!
THE DISCIPLES LOVE GRATUITOUSLY
GRATUITOUSNESS is the way Jesus loves. GRATUITOUSNESS is the way Jesus wants his disciples to love. By being disciples they are made able to love this way. Jesus does not only call the disciples to love his own way, but he MAKES THEM ABLE to do so. This is the effect of staying with him. The disciples are assimilated to Jesus. “Who sees you, sees me” (….). “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these” (Jn 14: 12). Jesus does not speak of works of engineering. But works expressing faith, hope and love. We may think of Comboni. We cannot fully understand Comboni unless in this context of loving at Jesus’ manner. We may think of all the founders, Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Ignatius of Loyola. We may think of evangelizers, of pastoral agents, of all saints. Gratuitous love is the real engine moving the church forward. After being the way God and Jesus love, it is the way the Church loves. This was the gift of Pentecost, the newness brought about by the Spirit. You just go through the Acts of the Apostles. Gratuitousness gives reason of what the Church is. Not only of what the Church should do or should be. But of what the Church is and does. Gratuitousness is at work in the world through the Church.
GRATUITOUS LOVE GIVES REASON OF OURSELVES
Any time a young man comes here or enters the seminary or to any religious congregation and offers himself for a service in the Church, I see there the work of the Spirit. Any choice not motivated by selfish interest, is an expression of gratuitous love, at the manner of Jesus. When I get up in the morning, I make the experience again and again of how this gratuitousness is at work in me. There are many people who get up early but they do it motivated by their own interests. There are people starting making bricks at 3,00 a.m., but they do it for money. We get up at 5.00 to pray, focused on God and focused on the people for whom we are preparing ourselves. Gratuitousness has become a kind of second nature. We are the first to be surprised. My class mates have other priorities. I myself till not long ago had other priorities. When I was in Raga I used to make frequent safaris by bicycle. Hundreds of Kilometres. Sometimes I said to myself, I must be mad! Gratuitous love. Work of the Spirit. The life we do here is just the same. Madness… love… the Spirit.
Of course you may be tempted of getting gratifications. Like James and John you may think of getting something for yourself out of it. “Let me get a position in your kingdom” (Mk 10: 35-36). But things do not work this way. Comboni in chapter X of the Rules that he wrote for his missionaries, says: “Any man who, in an absolute and final way, breaks off relations with the world and with those things naturally dearest to him, must live a life of spirit and of faith. The missionary who lacks a strong awareness of God and a lively interest in his glory and the good of souls is without the right attitude for his ministry, and will end by finding himself in a kind of emptiness and intolerable isolation”
THE TEST: THE GRACE (AND THE CROSS) OF THE CONTRADICTIONS
Gratuitousness: loving at the manner of Jesus. This is our way of life. Daily. Is it like this? How do we know? There may be a test. The contradictions we may meet are the test. Not the contradictions themselves but our reaction to them reveal what we are. Contradictions are situations in which we do good and we do not receive any gratification. On the contrary! We do something good and we are not appreciated. It may happen that people do not notice at all the good we do. It may happen that we do something good and we are misunderstood, or people may give the merit to others. We may be accused of something that we did not do. We may have the impression of others always being preferred to us, that we are excluded from being given gratifying roles. Pay attention to what your inner reactions are. Comboni once defended a sister, and was accused of doing this for selfish reasons, and his name was spoilt. People, included his father spoke against him. He clarified the situation because it could affect negatively his ministry. But he did not lose his peace. These reactions reveal who you are. From the way you react you understand what is in your heart. It is not the contradiction that puts these feelings in the heart, they are already there. The contradiction only gives the opportunity to be revealed through our reaction. In this sense we need contradictions to know ourselves. The contradictions are a grace, even if they may be painful (a cross) because they give the occasion for your very self to come out. Take notice of your reactions: self-defence, complaining, feelings of envy, jealousy, looking for revenge, counteraccusations, exaggerating the defects of the others. Contradictions have an important role for self-knowledge and as a consequence for building up oneself in truth.
SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR REFLECTION
- Find out in your life attitudes, events and moments when you loved gratuitously, at the manner of Jesus. Without gratification, even contradicted you carried on peacefully, joyously.
- Think of experiences of contradictions that you felt as graces. Maybe they hurt you at the beginning, but then you had a second thought and they became an occasion for knowing yourself and then correct yourself.
- Think of situations and events when you experienced lack of gratuitousness, when negative feelings prevailed such as self-defence, complaining, even accusing others.
Keep in mind: your missionary life be marked by an attitude of gratuitousness, loving at the manner of Jesus. Keep it in mind in your examination of conscience. Keep it in mind in your personal prayer. Keep it in mind in your Eucharist, which by itself is the daily exercise of gratuitous love, the encounter with Jesus loving gratuitously and enabling us to love gratuitously.