God leaves no one behind

  • April 15, 2009
Second Sunday of Easter (Year B) April 19 (Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31)

Biblical literalists can be very choosy indeed. This famous passage from Acts describes an exciting and challenging form of early “Christian communism.” But it is a rare occurrence when this passage is taken seriously — in fact, the New Testament is often used to justify and support profit and private property.

The renunciation of common property and union of minds and hearts sounds a bit too much like a socialist collective for most people. But the similarity to communism is superficial for there is the complete absence of coercion or violence — sharing was something believers did voluntarily and joyfully. Unity of heart and soul did not mean group-think or adherence to a party line. It described harmony about the things that give life and happiness. There can only be this sort of communal relationship when the trust level is very high and that takes a lot of work — more than most people are willing to give.

These first believers experienced the dissolution of the boundaries of class, ethnicity, gender and it was exhilarating. The Spirit enabled them to move beyond fear and old behaviour and thought patterns. They could feel the presence of the Spirit not only in themselves but in the community as a whole. The happiness and well-being of each member of the community was of equal importance. Their willingness to live in this manner stemmed from their conviction that this was how God intended people to live. It did not take long for it to fade away and become the practice only of small intentional communities.

Perhaps this divine model for human life deserves further consideration. We are suffering the effects of economic collapse — the collapse of an economic system that is powered by individualism, competition and greed. Many — far too many — are simply left behind and excluded from what we consider the basics of life. The message from Acts is clear: when we share openly and freely, all prosper and no one is left behind or excluded. That is what God wants and it should be what we want.

The motivation for obedience to God must always be love rather than fear. Obedience that is coerced and terrorized is not obedience at all — and it can scarcely be pleasing to God. Loving is a relationship and inspires one to please the beloved. Living the law of God — love — enables one to overcome the world. This is linked with believing that Jesus is the Son of God.

There is a catch — in John’s lexicon believing means living and acting in harmony with that faith. Faith is not simply a mental affair — assenting to various doctrines and creeds. Nor can it be compartmentalized and isolated from the rest of life. It is mirroring in one’s own life the life of Jesus.
“Peace be with you” — shalom — is a very simple and yet profound blessing and greeting from Jesus to His followers. Earlier in the narrative Jesus made it clear that the peace He was going to leave with them was not like any earthly or human peace — it would be a peace that this world simply cannot give. This peace flows from the absence of fear and the assurance that one is loved unconditionally by God.

This peace is only possible by an experience of God by means of the Spirit. It is that Spirit that Jesus breathes into the disciples as He missions them to the world and humanity. The instructions are simple (not easy): go and do exactly what God the Father sent me to do. That mission was and is to kindle in the hearts and minds of others an awareness and knowledge of God and an appreciation of their own worth and dignity.

We long for peace but it will elude us as long as we are filled with fear and our minds and hearts are far from God.

“Peace be with you,” when uttered in sincerity of heart as a blessing rather than as a perfunctory greeting at Mass, can be the greatest gift we can give. In a time when belief in God has become difficult or impossible for many the eloquent witness of God’s Spirit alive within us can be a source of hope and faith.