Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, by Francesco Trevisani, 1709. Photo/Wikimedia Commons [Public domain]

God welcomes all and plays no favourites

By 
  • April 30, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B) May 10 (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17)

Human beings have long laboured under the illusion that God is just like us, complete with human emotions, prejudices and ideas of justice. Fortunately, they are wrong, and God often demonstrates this in dramatic ways.

Peter had been called to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion, a person whom he was supposed to hate, despise and shun. Not only was Cornelius a gentile, he was an officer in the hated Roman army that was enforcing Roman rule. The Spirit had already been at work in Peter, showing him that all foods were clean — after all, they were all created by God. The shocker was that all classes of people were clean and acceptable in God’s sight. Human labels meant absolutely nothing to God. It was enough to fear God and do what was right, regardless of one’s social class, ethnicity or religion.

This represented a change of direction in human spiritual consciousness. For many centuries, gods were tied to a particular geographical location or people. God was often thought of as more of a tribal deity. But a new vision of God was dawning — God played no favourites whatsoever. God welcomed and blessed all without distinction. The definitive proof arrived in the form of the Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household. This was the hand of God, so human beings had no right to stand in the way or obstruct the work of the Spirit. Cornelius and his household were baptized and welcomed into the community of faith.

God has always been at work in every time, place and person, whether we like it or not. God refuses to be claimed or controlled by any person or group. This has not stopped people from trying to do just that, so God often has to demonstrate in unambiguous fashion just how different from our own imaginings He really is. This continues today as we are challenged to think more in global terms and as fellow humans rather than members of a particular group. God still has many surprises in store for us.

The author of 1 John gives us the perfect definition of God: God is love. If that is the case, then love is the only way we will ever experience, know or approach God. It is also the only way we will experience others in a genuine way. We cannot reason, manipulate or bargain our way to God — only love will get us there. Looking at the billions of people on the face of the Earth, it is easy to pick out those who have been born of God and know Him. They are the ones who are concerned with the happiness and well-being of all and are able to reverence the image of God in everyone. They are sources of encouragement and hope. Counterfeits are easy to spot, and there are many, but one cannot hide a lack of love and compassion behind a smokescreen of religious language and symbols.

God the Father loves Jesus with a perfect love, and Jesus showed this same quality of love in His self-giving obedience to the cross for our sakes. It is the source of the fullness of joy for Jesus, but He does not keep this for Himself. He offers to fill His followers with the same perfect love if they obey His commandments. His commandments are simple but not easy. The first is to love one another without limit — not a superficial or cheap love, but a willingness to lay down one’s life for others. The second is to believe in Him, but belief in John’s Gospel is an all-consuming undertaking. It is nothing less than living continually in the mind and heart of Christ.

If experiencing the fullness of joy or sharing in the divine life were not enough, Jesus also offers friendship to those disciples willing to enter the river of the Spirit. This friendship is a personal and transforming relationship, and Jesus hastens to add that He shares all of the knowledge given to Him by God the Father. Sadly, too few people accept His offer. Fear, ignorance, laziness, feelings of unworthiness and a host of other factors all take their toll. Basically, Jesus offers to share with us the experience of being Jesus — how can anyone refuse or be indifferent?

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