We are not alone when we walk in love

  • April 21, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C) May 1 (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29)

There are two basic approaches to drawing people to a relationship with God and an experience of divine love and mercy. Some anxiously, and usually angrily, place as many obstacles before others as possible. They set conditions that have to be met before someone can belong to the community or dare to approach God. But there is another approach, and that is to place as few obstacles or conditions before people as possible — in short, do everything in one’s power to bring them home.

The hardliners in the reading from Acts belonged to the first category. They insisted that in order to be a follower of Jesus, one had to be circumcised and observe the Law in its entirety. This was causing havoc among the Gentile converts and was seriously dividing the community. It was an almost insurmountable barrier to those drawn to the community of the Risen Christ.

Paul and others represented a more moderate and open approach, and this was adopted by James and the rest of the community. Only the bare minimum was required — avoidance of fornication, meat sacrificed to idols and blood from strangled animals. If those modest conditions were met, then Gentile converts were welcome. This is the message that Paul carried throughout the Mediterranean, but it continued to be resisted by hardline factions for some time.

Luke portrays the meeting in Jerusalem as a peaceful and reasonable gathering, although Paul’s account in Galatians differs considerably. He lets us know that there were harsh words and conflict too!

Pope Francis has reminded us of something that is very clear in both Testaments: the name of God is mercy. The salvation and well-being of souls is so important that we should be exploring every possible way the door of welcome can be opened to all. This is not a sign of weakness or laxity, but compassion, generosity of heart and spiritual maturity. The dazzling jewels and radiance of the New Jerusalem in John’s Revelation is meant to convey the glory, beauty and inestimable value of God and the heavenly realm. There is a curious statement that there is no temple in the city nor is there any need of sunlight or moonlight. The temple would be superfluous — God will be so close and present to humans that there will be no need of a separate place to worship a distant God. As for the light — God and Christ will be a superabundant source of light. Everything that people sought outside of and above themselves will be present and accessible. Will this occur in a particular time and place? Perhaps — but for the most part, they represent the personal experiences of those that have laboured long to draw closer to God. In the process they will have purified their minds and hearts. 

John revealed how this inner experience can be possible — it is through walking the way of love and keeping the words of God that Jesus has given to us. Those “words” or teachings are variations on love, forgiveness, humility, kindness, non-violence, faith and generosity. Love is both the inner and outer path to God — and the only one. Those who keep these words can expect that Jesus and the Father will dwell within them and that they will commune with them. Jesus promised that God would also send another presence — the Holy Spirit — to dwell with them. They would continue to experience Christ’s presence, teaching and enlightenment. Jesus left them another gift — a huge one — peace. He made it clear that this was not a worldly peace, which is usually the very temporary absence of violence, but a deep, healing and eternal peace that only happens when we are embraced fully by God. The absence of this sort of peace is the main reason that the world is torn to pieces by fear, suspicion, hatred, greed and self-gratification. If we want a different world, we have to experience the peace that Christ gives and then pass that on to countless others, expressing it in word, thought and deed. We cannot give what we do not have.

Jesus said that He was going away and coming to them — puzzling on the surface, but reassuring too. Even though Jesus seems to be absent He walks always at our side, and those that walk in love are never alone.