God’s Spirit is at work in giving another chance

  • April 24, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 6 (Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)

It was no wonder that Saul frightened the Christian community in Jerusalem. He had done nothing to inspire trust or openness; in fact, he had been their tormentor-in-chief for a number of years. He was responsible for the blood and the misfortune of many. His arrival in Jerusalem and his claim to be a follower of Jesus only aroused suspicion and anxiety.

Sometimes it is extremely difficult to overcome a negative past, especially when people have been hurt. Betrayals, infidelities and unkind words and deeds all take a heavy toll. Not everyone is eager to forgive and move on and one’s words and actions will always be scrutinized relentlessly. People are not always ready to give others another chance. It is difficult to build trust and overcome fear.

There is a valuable lesson in Saul’s story: we can never judge a person’s life — even our own — until it’s over... and maybe not even then. Today’s traitor or sinner may be tomorrow’s hero or saint, and vice versa. Grace is always and everywhere at work in the world and we never know when a soul may open itself to the divine gift. Tragically, we are also ignorant of the moment when a soul may turn away and reject grace. It is far better to withhold judgment — positive or negative — and merely observe what is happening in the present moment and make correct choices. Saul had an uphill battle for the rest of his life and he failed to convince everyone. There were, however, many who were won over by his commitment, zeal, energy and self-sacrifice. Actions speak far louder than words especially when there are old wounds to heal. In giving others another chance we are making room for God’s Spirit to do its work.

The author of John’s letters insisted that truth and action are what really count and that love is best shown in deeds rather than words or speech. The key to a happy and fulfilled life is belief in Jesus. In John’s lexicon, belief is not intellectual assent to doctrines or dogma but surrender of heart, mind and soul to the Lord. Obeying the commandments of God is a crucial part of belief in Jesus and these commandments are all expressions of the fundamental principle of love. For John, love is the unique way in which we relate to and communicate with God. Love drives the fear and self-condemnation from our hearts.

We know that atheism is a problem and challenge in our time. Even more serious, however, is practical or virtual atheism — living one’s life, even a religious one, as if there were no God. Many people experience an absence of the divine in the world and a profound emptiness within. Doubt, loss of faith and a sense of aimlessness or pessimism are distinguishing marks of our time. A rationalistic or dogmatic understanding of God is partly to blame. There is a great difference between knowing about God and having a personal and direct experience of God. John had little use for the first but commended to us the second and this should be the main focus of the Church. In John’s view, God is not an idea or a concept — ideas and concepts do not give life and they are often wrong and easily destroyed. John defined God as love and insisted that it is by means of love that we know God and are in turn known by Him. John uses the term “abide” several times in the Gospel and letters — it can also mean to remain or to dwell. Abiding in Jesus is what he commands his disciples to do. This means that our faith commitment can never be relegated to an hour on Sunday.

We would not consider breathing only a few times each day or week and our relationship with Jesus is meant to be at least as important as breathing or life itself. In what can only be described as a mysticism of everyday life, we are urged to live or dwell in Jesus 24/7 in thought, word and deed. Nourished and transformed by the divine Spirit, we will experience spiritual growth and fruitfullness in our life. There is no suitable substitute for deep and personal communion with the divine.

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