MAY 6TH, 2016: SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
"Get up. I myself am also a human being."
Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
"In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him."
While Peter was still speaking these things,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
should have been poured out on the Gentiles also,
for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter responded,
"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?"
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.
In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another."
I learned very early in my religious career that one sign the Roman Catholic Church is the one and only “true” church revolves around the conviction that only the Roman Catholic Church has never changed through the centuries. Though other churches have frequently changed, we’ve toed the line, never altering our beliefs, never modifying our practices. We believe and do whatever Jesus commanded us to believe and do at the Last Supper.
Then I fell into the diabolical heresy of studying Scripture.
Among other things, I learned the earliest followers of Jesus followed the risen, not the historical Jesus. They were much more concerned with what the Christ among them was teaching and expecting of them than what the Galilean carpenter had taught and expected of his original disciples a generation or two before. The historical Jesus certainly wasn’t irrelevant, but through his resurrection he had morphed into a new creation, a person who, as Paul believed and taught, was as much a Jew as a Gentile, a free person as a slave, and a woman as a man. He/she not only was concerned with what happened to his fellow Jews in Palestine between 6 BCE and 30 CE, the risen Christ now also cared about those who lived years later, in places far beyond Palestine, Jews and non-Jews alike. That’s why the members of this unique community didn’t hesitate to change. But they certainly didn’t change for change’s sake. There was a method behind their “mobility;” a method we hear especially in today’s gospel pericope. A method revolving around love.
John’s Jesus couldn’t be clearer: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The evangelist has him refer to the present, not the past. Jesus of Nazareth didn’t show love once upon a time, he/she, as the risen Christ, is giving us love right here and now. It’s ongoing.
I frequently reminded my high school marriage course students that there’s no one action which to everyone, in every place, at every time shows love. Signs of love change as the people around us and the circumstances they encounter change. We who are commanded to love must always be alert to employing actions which show love to this particular person, in this particular time and place. For Christians, change isn’t a curse, it’s a loving necessity.
Love of others is at the heart of Jesus’s faith, as the author of I John insists in our second reading. “Let us love one another,” he writes, “because love is of God: everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Since to biblically know someone or something is to experience someone or something, the author is telling his readers, “The only way we can experience God in our lives is to love one another.” There are no shortcuts.
One of the reasons Luke originally composed his Acts of the Apostles was to let his community know how a church that began as 100 percent Jewish in the 30s, was, in the mid-80s when he wrote, quickly becoming 100 percent Gentile. A real sea change! Though Luke assures us that the Holy Spirit was certainly behind this fundamental switch in membership, most scholars are convinced that, on just a natural level, when Jewish Christians began to love Gentiles as much as the risen Jesus loved them, they couldn’t understand why non-Jews couldn’t also be other Christs. Love eventually opened up the Christian community to love as the Christ loves.
Though this insight flies in the face of my childhood catechism classes, unchangeableness isn’t a sign of divine authenticity; it’s simply a sign we’ve refused to love.