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God's Word on Sunday: The Lord asks for justice, kindness, humility

  • May 15, 2022

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

What must one do to be saved? This is an age-old question and is fraught with many related issues. What does it mean to be “saved,” and from what? This is not as obvious as it might at first appear, for there have been different answers to those questions depending on when, where and under what conditions they were asked.

Human beings are adept at coming up with their own answers to those questions regardless of whether God has been consulted. Many run interference for God, establishing who may have access to God and under what conditions. This strengthens the group identity and provides a list of outliers and potential enemies.

These are human traits, and all religions are guilty in varying degrees. We can see this tension at the beginning of Christianity. Strict interpreters and hardliners abound in every age, and in this story a group of them attempt to stop what they felt was a serious lowering of the bar by doing damage control. And they were stringent measures: circumcision and full observance of the Law were mandated in order to enter the community of Jesus-believers. The freshness and innovativeness of the movement could have been blunted and compromised. In the so-called Council of Jerusalem that followed, the leaders chose a middle ground, requiring only the bare minimum for Gentile converts.

As we face similar challenges and crises today, the principles of openness, flexibility and easing the burdens of others need to be given new life. There was always a current of openness and simplification on God’s part throughout the Old Testament. A prime example is the beautiful encouragement from Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The decision of the meeting was that Gentile converts were to refrain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood and from fornication. All left the assembly in peace, but Paul’s version of the meeting, written a generation before in the Letter to the Galatians, tells a different story. Accusations of heresy treachery and cowardice flew through the air. Even then, opposing groups and views found it very difficult to achieve a union of minds and hearts.

The imagery of the Book of Revelation can dazzle and inspire but also leave us wondering what it all means. Rather than trying to crack the code of each verse, it is more helpful to stand back and take a broad and panoramic view.

John saw the Holy City Jerusalem descending from the heavens arrayed with mystical symbolism. But the most significant characteristic of the city is the absence of a temple or external source of illumination. There is a simple reason: the Heavenly Jerusalem is not a place or something we only experience after we die. It is the goal of our spiritual evolution — a state in which the divine presence is realized with each of us to such a degree that we no longer need to search outside for God. We will be our own temple and light.

How can we set things in motion so that we begin our journey? John’s Gospel is clear: we invite God to set up shop in us when we decide to walk with God continually, not just in little snippets of disconnected time. “Loving God” is a term often tossed carelessly about without awareness or understanding of its all-consuming nature or rigourous demands. Love in this sense means loyalty, fidelity and commitment. Our walk with God becomes far more than a religion but a way of life.

When Jesus and the Father come to take up residence in the human heart and soul, they bring along a surprise guest: the Holy Spirit or Paraclete, to both console and instruct.  The fullness of God’s house with the human heart and soul removes fear and grants an indescribable peace utterly unlike anything the world can give. We are a wondrous work in progress, but only if we allow ourselves to be borne along by the Spirit of God and to be transformed.