Again, “We adore God Who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, Who offered Himself on the Cross to expiate our sins, and through the power of this love, rose from the dead and lives in His Church. We have no God other than Him” (Pope Francis, 6/21/14).
“No greater love has a person than this, that he or she lay down his or her life for a friend,” says Jesus. Does this mean, that when one Mafia enforcer “has the back” of his friend, another Mafia enforcer, while the friend is collecting protection money from a person who does not want to pay, and in the process of protecting his Mafia friend the protector is killed, he is living the greatest love that a person can live according to Jesus?
No text can be authentically understood, as its author intended it be understood, independent of the context in which it is presented. If the context is changed the meaning of the text is changed. Here is the context in which “No greater love has a person than to lay down his or her life for a friend” (Jn 15:13) occurs. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No greater love has a person than this, that he or she lay down his or her life for a friend. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15: 12-14).
Jesus’ love which brought Him to ‘lay done His life for His friends” is the model, motive and cause that must bring His followers to lay down their lives for their friends, because as Saint Paul emphatically states, “(A)nd even if I let them take my body to burn, but if I am without love [agape, Christlike love], it will profit me nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). The Mafia enforcer, mentioned above, laying down his life for his friends while trying to kill his friend’s enemy, meets perfectly the meaning of “No greater love has a person than this, that he or she lay down his or her life for a friend,” if that sentence is de-contextualized. If read and interpreted in its context it is impossible to rationally maintain that that sentence ennobles to the greatest form of love known to Jesus and advocated to His disciples a Mafia capo being killed while “having the back” of his Mafia friend.
Yet, often in the homes of members of the Cosa Nostra, just about all of whom are Baptized Catholics, a picture of Jesus and this saying of Jesus, “No greater love has a man than to lay down his for his friends,” is displayed prominently on a plaque on the wall.
But then, it is not only on the walls of Mafia households where this plaque is an almost de rigueur furnishing accessory.
-Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
(To be continued)