We offer the following reflection, which is the first of what we hope to be a series on “Hard Sayings of the Gospels.”
No one has a great love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
This verse, in context with the ones following immediately after, is a reference to Jesus’ willingness to die for the salvation of His disciples. This we know He did, and this we proclaim, for the cry “Christ is risen!” is the core conviction of our faith. Furthermore, He died for them because they knew His message. They were not ignorant servants, but those with whom Jesus revealed God’s love in a personal way. Yet, we also know that He died not just for the disciples, but for all His friends. For we sing “Christ is risen!” for all of our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in Christ. Indeed, we sing this on behalf of all those in the tombs! Christ is the eternal Lord Who chose not to cling to His power, but to condescend to us and even call us all friends and unite us to God within Himself.
We also know, however, that this verse is not something that begins and ends with Christ’s life only. It begins with His death but lives on in the Church, as we are called to be the Body of Christ. We know this, for St. John the Theologian later, in 1 John 3:16, will tell us that we, too, are to lay down our lives for one another.
In a fallen world, there are many ways to do this. One of the more obvious might be the kind of sacrifice one witnesses within military settings. Someone may jump on a grenade or risk his or her life to help a wounded comrade. Since good order, good economia, in a fallen world requires the use of militaries and police forces, one will always have a world in which such honorable sacrifices must be made.
Yet, within the civilian side of life, there are many sacrifices as well. We may lay down our lives completely and directly. Here, one might think of people who die saving others, such as in raging rivers and floods or other calamities. We should also be cognizant of the ways in which we can lay down our lives in smaller but no less useful means. Do we tithe? Do we volunteer at homeless shelters or other places of social outreach? Do we help those around us? Do we love our neighbors even when they annoy us? Laying down one’s life is not simply something that is to happen only on a battlefield or in the midst of a calamity. Laying down one’s life is a way of life! May our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, grant us the courage to sacrifice of ourselves for the good of others and may we all sing “Christ is risen!” with hearts that pour out his love.