SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (2018)
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4:7-10
Friendship is the most precious of gifts. It is precious not because it is exclusive, not because it is eternal. Indeed, depending on our good nature, we can hopefully boast of numerous friends in every phase of our lives. Our friendships are no less precious because they have very definite beginnings, or because all of them will have very definite endings. Our friendships can be measured according to how much they are life-giving, how much they have enriched our lives. Genuine friends support and nourish us, they accompany us on this journey we call life, and, most importantly, they give us a glimpse of the unconditional and generous love of God. Friends help us to become the people God intends us to be.
In today’s gospel from John, Jesus reminds his disciples that they are His friends, and He does not use the term lightly: “I no longer call you slaves…. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” It is in sharing that genuine friendships are made. Jesus shared/revealed the most intimate details of who He was, where He came from, and what His Father expected of Him and us. As God’s Son, Jesus knew how God loved: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will also remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love…. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”
What did Jesus reveal about God’s love that was earth-shattering and upsetting to the good Jew? That God’s love was universal and unconditional! The Jewish people wanted to believe that their friendship with God was exclusive. “I will be your God, you will be my people” was interpreted in the most exclusive of ways, and it was beyond imaginable that “their” God could desire the salvation of Gentiles as well as Jews. They sincerely thought that God could never be friends with any people other than the Jewish people. They missed the hints that God had sent them down through the ages, hints like that of the Psalmist in today’s response who could say that even though God had “remembered his kindness and faithfulness toward the house of Israel,” that God had also “made his salvation known in the sight of [all] the nations.” Indeed, the Psalmist could boldly proclaim “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God”!
God’s salvation is intended for all people, yet the newly-formed Church of the apostles briefly desired that their friendship with God should also be exclusive. They found it difficult to imagine that people who called themselves Christian did not first have to become Jewish and worry about all the things good Jews worried about.
At one point in the Acts of the Apostles Peter and Paul are somewhat at odds with one another over the Gentile question. By the time of our first reading, however, Peter understands the universality of God’s salvation. In Peter’s humble encounter with the pagan Centurion Cornelius he can boldly state, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, every nation… is acceptable to him.” Even as Peter spoke the Holy Spirit “fell upon all,” and the Jewish people who had accompanied Peter were “astounded,” perhaps even appalled, for they could not understand “that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles.” The Jewish people failed to understand what our second reading proclaims so beautifully, that “God is love,” and that divine love is unconditional and universal.
Jesus clearly showed His disciples during His earthly ministry that it was not just for the house of Israel that He was sent into this world. Jesus reached out to the poor and the outcast and the marginalized. He befriended the sinner, shared meals with them, and invited the scorn of the so-called religious leaders of his day by healing on the Sabbath and touching those considered to be unclean. His message was loud and clear: God’s mercy and love was intended for all people. With his last breath, Jesus could assure the unbelieving sinner hanging on a cross next to Him that from that very hour he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Yet, the early church oftentimes struggled with its outreach to the Gentiles.
We are called to love others in the way that God loves the world that He created. What is important is not what church we belong to, what country we happen to live in, or how often we have said our prayers. We are called, as Acts reminds us, to fear God and to act uprightly – that is how we become “acceptable” to God. Christians, Jews, Moslems and Buddhists are all loved by the same God, and we, in turn, are called to love others with the same kind of unconditional and universal love. “Whoever is without love does not know God.” It is important to remember on what we will be judged when we stand before the eternal throne of God. May it affect every fiber of our being. May it color all our actions, so that all those who come in contact with us “will know we are Christians by our love.”