He was taking the money and running. That’s what his friends assumed: he was a man they chartered for a ride through dangerous territory and it turned out worse than they expected. Even though they had to fight their way through impossible odds in order to rescue a Princess from Darth Vader, it seemed Han Solo was going to take the money and run just when they needed to go all out to destroy the Death Star. Luke Skywalker led the Rebel fighters in the assault and just when Luke was locked into Darth Vader’s targeting computer, Han Solo appeared out of nowhere to save the day and make the destruction of the Death Star possible. It was a great dramatic moment.
Why did Han Solo come back? He was only in for the money, at least that’s what he told everybody. Sure, he rather liked Princess Leia, but in the first movie we really didn’t have any idea that this relationship would go anywhere. Obi-Wan Kenobi amazed him even though he thought Obi-Wan was crazy, and the robots didn’t mean anything. Luke was someone he liked as a buddy, but Han Solo didn’t seem to understand the idealism that drove any of his passengers in that first movie. So why did he come back when there didn’t seem to be anything in it for him? Was it because of a bond that he was part of that he hadn’t experienced before? Was it because of a loyalty that went beyond explanation, even beyond his understanding? Was it a feeling of obligation to people who had given him something worth more than money? Good questions all.
Today’s Gospel sees Jesus promising his disciples something that is very much in line with God’s promises to the Israelites on Sinai, and calls for the same kind of response from them that God asked of the Israelites. Jesus invites the disciples to respond to the love He gives them by loving one another, keeping his commandments and promises his disciples that he will send them the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort them. This is a different kind of obedience than we associate with orders; this obedience has a different motivation than fear of breaking the rules. The ancient people of Israel committed to live by God’s commandments at Sinai in response to God’s saving work for them. These people were delivered from bondage in Egypt and were being led to the Promised Land: the actions were from God and there was nothing that they could do to repay Him in any meaningful manner for all the goodness they received other than to live by the commandments He gave. The reason they committed to these commandments wasn’t fear of Hell; it was love of God and a desire to return that love that motivated them. In the same way, Jesus’ disciples were unable to repay him for all that He had done for them and all that He was about to do for them over the next three days: Jesus’ calls them to live by his commandments as a response in love to what they have received and promises them support in that task.
We are living in the same kind of obedience today. We are called to follow Christ’s commandments as a sign of gratitude and acceptance. Sure, we can say: “what’s it going to take for me to avoid Hell?” We can do what we have to do, without any real positive commitment, as a kind of fire insurance. This might get us by, but how will we view this kind of obedience? Will we look for ways around the letter of the law, look for situations where the rules don’t matter or some way to excuse ourselves from something we don’t want to face? Will we do what we have to without any reference to the living breathing people around us that we are called to make room for, just as we are called to make room for Christ? These are temptations to obedience out of fear, and I don’t think that this is the kind of obedience that Christ calls us to.
Christ has done a lot for us. He has died for us and risen from the dead so that we can die to our sins and rise from them renewed. He has given us the Eucharist to sustain us in our daily lives, to make us stronger in our commitment to Him and to others, and He has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us and support us in the life of discipleship.
When we consider what Christ calls us to do, particularly the first commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”, we are asked to remember the faithfulness and trustworthiness of God, the one who never abandons us and the one who takes care of us. When we consider how to live Christ’s commands, we are called to turn toward one another, not because we have to, but because that is the best way we can express our gratitude and love for the One who has first loved us. We are called to obedience, to faithfulness, not because we are afraid of how we might be punished or what we might suffer if we don’t do what we’re commanded to do. We are called to live by God’s commandments in response to God’s love for us in Christ.