SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (2021)
Readings:Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48Psalms 98:1-41 John 4:7-10John 15:9-17
Very conservative Bishops might choose to cover their ears during the Liturgy of the Word, for there is very little in our readings which will give them the ammunition to prevent anyone from receiving communion or being a follower of Jesus. How some still long for a black and white church, where wrong is wrong, and what matters are the ‘rules,’ not the gospel. As last week’s first reading showed, such a church would have kept that braggadocious Paul from becoming a pillar of the church (of course, it would also have kept what is undeniably the most important collection of letter writing from being part of the Second Testament!).
Quite frankly, this is deja vu all over again! Conservative Catholics were screaming on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States that such notorious Catholics as Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, because they were democratic politicians who supported the right to have an abortion, should be refused communion, wherever they presented themselves for communion. The big moment came in Washington D.C.’s Nationals Park, when not only were they given communion, but they were given communion by Pope Benedict himself.
Let’s be clear, if refusing them or any other politician communion could change the Democratic Platform and get the Democrats to focus a little more on the sanctity of all human life, refusing them communion might be worth the risk of endangering my own soul. As rabidly pro-life as I like to think I am, I am more of a Pope Francis kind of guy – “Who am I to judge?” The reality is that Bishops and priests making decisions about which sins are most sinful, the kind of notorious sinning which would prevent a person from receiving communion, is a very dangerous affair. Everyone who presents themselves for communion are sinners, and making a judgment on what can only truly be known by a loving God (a person’s interior state), is not “necessary” to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege. Luckily, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware, feel the same way.
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, a highly redacted selection, avoids showing us the reluctance of Peter to allow Cornelius or any Gentiles into the newly formed Christian Church. Indeed, at Peter’s first meeting with Cornelius (not described in today’s first reading), Peter found it necessary to refresh Cornelius’ memory and tell him: “you know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile” (this view in spite of what Peter witnessed Jesus doing and saying). Like Cornelius, Peter had a dream (also not described in the first reading), and the dreams were aligned in such a way that it was clear God was sending the two of them a very specific message – no one “should be called profane or unclean,” a sentiment clearly echoed in the gospels by Jesus (see Mt. 15:11).
Our first reading gives us the impression that this division between Peter and Paul, between those who demanded that Gentiles become Jews first before being allowed into the wing of Jesus, was healed pretty easily, but that was hardly the case. The abbreviated version of the early church described in our first reading does give us the essentials. Peter rightly says, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality,” and goes on to say that “every (any) one that fears [the Lord] and acts uprightly is acceptable [to the Lord].” Within seconds “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening,” EVERYONE, including the Gentiles, received the Holy Spirit and were quickly baptized.
How can Peter so confidently say that “God shows no partiality?” Because, in spite of his betrayal, the days of walking in the desert and listening to the Lord speak caused Peter, in the words of last week’s gospel, to be fully attached to the Vine that is Jesus. So attached was Peter to the vine that his intense love for the Lord was without question, and he could “remain” in Christ’s love. Peter surely recognized, now more than ever, that he was meant to live his life spreading the love of the one who chose him. The choice of the Lord was “that all might be one;” the gospel was meant for all peoples, the call to salvation was universal. It was Peter’s love for his Lord which will cause him to begrudgingly reconcile to Paul and abandon his desire that all Gentiles first become Jews before they can be made Christians.
Jesus’ words in John’s gospel carry just a little more weight being part of His lengthy final discourse to His disciples. In a short time Jesus will be arrested, and His mind is not fixated on the things of this world. Jesus is concerned that His disciples “love one another.” In fact, He commands them “to love one another.” It is love that is Jesus’ primary commandment, and as disciples of the Lord Jesus, it is love that should be our primary concern. If what we do or say doesn’t expand the love in this world then we shouldn’t say or do it. May we show that we “remain” in Jesus, by loving one another the way Jesus would have us love.