|6th Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
1 John 4:7-10
So as to be more available to the graces offered in the Readings, imagine Jesus moving from one disciple to an other, as he did while washing their feet. He looks each one in the eye while speaking to each one of them, one of the verses from today's Gospel. There is an urgency in his voice and a tone of intimate love. Judas has been long gone, but to those who remain, Jesus almost begs them to stay close to each other in love. He then looks straight at you and gives a quick nod and whispers, "That goes for you as well."
We have the first hint of Pentecost's graces in the Readings for today. We hear of God's universal love which is not given merely to certain favorites, but is offered beyond national and ethnic boundaries. God's love is not flowing like a river, in a sense. Rivers flow according to gravity's pull and banks' depth. Like a flood? Yes, more like a flood or better yet, like a fountain where the waters tumble indiscriminately down all sides. Jesus is asking his closest friends to continue the mission of his fountaining love. We have much about which to pray with these readings. We are invited to pray to receive God's love for us personally so much so, that we fountain out that love beyond the comfortable boundaries. Loving one another means more than loving those who will receive our love and those who can return it to us in spades. We are invited to receive more deeply the spirit of Jesus' love and the courage to live and give it out.
We hear only a section of a longer story in the First Reading. Cornelius is a Roman soldier who, while praying devoutly receives a vision in which an angel announces that his prayer and generosity have been accepted by God. Then he is instructed to send for Simon Peter for a conference. Visions are the "in thing" and Simon Peter has one as well. He is instructed to eat the birds and animals which are appearing on a large sheet dropped down before him. Sounds strange for a kind of menu, but remember Peter at this time is a most devout Jew and would never eat anything "unclean." The vision responds to his religious objection by reminding him that God made everything clean, and Peter has no authority to name birds and animals and anything God created as profane.
Meanwhile, the messengers arrive to take Peter back for his conference with the first visionary, Cornelius. In hearing our Reading then, you will learn the rest of the story. It is important to understand that Peter and his companions go into Cornelius' house though at this time, that would be considered a "no no." This chapter ten of Acts is most significant for social and religious reasons. As we hear though, God does not play favorites not even to the holding back on the sending of the Spirit. Peter, finally understanding that the Holy Spirit was moving beyond friendly confines, declares that Cornelius and all in his company should receive Baptism, even as they had themselves. Jesus, through the Spirit is growing wider and deeper.
If you have assisted recently at a wedding, you probably heard this well-used Gospel. It is all about loving. Well, yes, but more than that. Love is about laying down one's life. Love is about remaining faithful as God is to us. Love is shown in actions and in mutual sharing of all one's personal gifts, including histories, fears, graces as well as material goods. Loving is a command, because we are so selfish. If the elements of loving were so easy and natural to us all, Jesus would not have given a command to do it, and he gives it to his friends twice. He would have said, "Keep it up boys," and told them to do something harder perhaps. No, this is the hard one, because to love means to lay it all out there. Jesus asks this of us, because this is the way he began the reversal from sin and its consequences. Love would continue his growing wider and deeper if we would lay it all out there as he did. For all the songs and poems and movies about love, it still remains an insult to our selfishness. Jesus does not give his friends a handbook on how to love, but has given them three years of his loving forgiveness, caring, and sharing of all he has. He will lay it all out for them on the cross and then give them the Spirit, but for all that, we flounder. Jesus did not give them a weed to chew or potion to drink which would make loving easy. If I could come up with something to make his commandment easier we'd all be rich! I do know that receiving love from God and from God through others seems to be the beginning. We can not share what we have not first received. Jesus is God's love made visible, receivable. Like a good secret, once received it just has to be shared.
The most difficult aspect of this greatest of all the commands is to believe that we are "loveable." "Facisti me amabile," the phrase goes, "You have made me loveable." For all the songs and poems and movies, about love, there is more money and time spent on arranging our outward selves to appear; appear what? Being loveable comes from within where God's grace plays artist. The beauty then does appear, but radiates outward and can not be smudged off or wiped away or criticized into disappearance. When Jesus asks us to love one another, he asks first if we have allowed him to wash our feet, our simple humanity; wash away our shame for being so human. Because we do not achieve our own standard of beauty we assume that we are too ugly, too much the loser to love sincerely as he invites us to do. So that is the first part of this commandment, that we let him grace us with his Spirit so that our real name more than our false shame, appears loveable and then loving. Loving is never a perfect experience, but being loved makes living with imperfections, fidelity.
"If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord. The Father
will send you the Holy Spirit, to be with you for ever, alleluia." Jn.
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