CNS photo/Debbie Hill

God's Word on Sunday: Heavenly Jerusalem resides within us

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  • May 17, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26 (Year C) Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

There are two approaches to life that make our world more “interesting.” The first seeks to build walls, erect barriers and gates, and control access. The second builds bridges, opens doors and levels the playing field. These two opposing attitudes battle it out in politics, education, business and, yes, religion. 

The first real crisis the Christian community faced concerned non-Jewish believers in Jesus. What did they have to do to sign on as a member of the people of God? One camp demanded the maximum: Potential converts had to become Jews first, observing all the laws, including circumcision. 

Paul and others had a different view. They recognized Jesus represented the turning of a new page in human history — a “new age.” No longer would people identify themselves as members of God’s household by observance of the Law. From now on, God’s people would be distinguished by faith. Gentile converts would not be required to observe the Law and traditions. 

The debate roiled the entire community, with people of good faith on both sides of the issue. Hardliners showed up in Antioch insisting that full observance of the Law was necessary for salvation. The bar was set very high. At this meeting of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, it was decided that Gentile converts were only required to observe the minimum: avoidance of idolatry, blood and fornication, something required of all. 

Although Luke portrays the meeting as peaceful and fraternal, Paul’s account in Galatians — written a generation before — tells a different story. The meeting was rancorous and contentious, with lots of shouting and temper displays. Nothing new there! 

Christianity passed through this first crisis and broke out into the Greco-Roman world. Had the views of the other party prevailed, Christianity might have remained a small sect rather than a great world religion. 

We face many similar issues today, many of them related to inclusiveness and boundaries. Building bridges should be our tool, along with an open heart and mind. What made it possible was openness to the Spirit and a willingness to change — the basic requirements for a living faith. 

God’s plan of salvation evolves through the centuries. Clinging rigidly to the past or to tradition will put us on the wrong side of God’s history.

The vision of the heavenly Jerusalem is as beautiful as it is puzzling. The text is loaded with numeric and visual significance, most signifying perfection and completeness. The precious jewels reflect paradise and God’s glory. 

This city is out of the ordinary. There is no temple and there is no need of light from the sun or moon. Many have thought that the heavenly Jerusalem would descend to an earthly location, but it is not a place; it is a state of conscious awareness of God’s presence. 

The temple is not needed because God is within and easily accessible. From that interior temple, God illuminates our awareness and our actions. This is what God intends for humanity, but we stumble towards this goal and often stray from the path. God does not want to be distant. God wants to dwell with us.

We are not alone in this struggle, nor do we have to “figure things out.” John gives us some powerful assurances. First, the Spirit dwells within the community and the hearts of believers, continuing its role as teacher and guide. We need but listen and go where the Spirit leads. 

Love is the way — the only way — that we will ever know and experience God. We cannot reason our way to an experience of God, nor will manipulation of any sort do the trick. Love means fidelity and obedience to the divine will, along with self-giving care and compassion for others. 

Jesus promises that if we love Him and obey His commandments, He and the Father will dwell within us. In other words, we will experience within us the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem. The choice is entirely ours. 

The Scriptures are filled with promises of wonderful gifts, most of which remain unopened and unused. The heavenly Jerusalem, as well as the kingdom of God, are within us.

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