Christ handing the keys to St Peter, by Pietro Perugino (1481–82). Public domain

God's word on Sunday: What matters is what’s in the heart

  • May 4, 2018

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 6 (Year B) Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Who enjoys God’s favour? Centuries of religious bigotry and strife have rested on the assumption that God has favourites. Belonging to the right nation, ethnicity, class or religious tradition was crucial — a mistake in any of these categories was thought to have dire consequences. 

There was on the part of many an unspoken belief that they possessed God or could control and manipulate God. Occasionally, God manages to get in a word and speak for Godself. Throughout Scripture, God voices concern for other peoples and nations and looks forward to a time when all will be gathered on God’s Holy Mountain. 

Jesus revealed God by reaching across boundaries and barriers, ministering to and welcoming those who were excluded or stigmatized. In Acts, the Holy Spirit raised the bar considerably. 

Peter was commanded not to call any human being unclean and just to drive the point home, the Spirit fell on the pagan Cornelius and his entire household. Peter was stunned. He finally recognized that any group or person that feared God and did what was right was pleasing and acceptable to God. What is in the human heart is what matters. God’s kingdom was available for all. 

This self-revelation of God has been a stumbling block for Christians for centuries. We have filled hell in our imaginations with those who disagree with us or who are different. Many believers have rebuilt walls and barriers as fast as God takes them down. 

There is a distressing human desire to feel special and privileged, and to have someone or some group to look down on. The Spirit in our own age challenges us to look for what we have in common with other groups — what sort of things unite us — rather than dwelling on differences. 

Active compassion, kindness, a commitment to justice and human solidarity count for so much, but these qualities often are shoved aside in our competitive and combative culture. The realization that we do not own or have a special claim on God liberates us to love universally.

The author of 1 John recognized that love is the true nature of God. Wherever we find generous and self-giving love, we find God, regardless of what labels it might be wearing. Knowing God and loving are synonymous and anyone who claims to know God but fails to love is seriously mistaken. We cannot buy, earn or manipulate our way to God — we can only love our way home. Once again, love is revealed in deeds. God gave God’s only-begotten son for our sake. There can be no greater act of love.

Is there any way that we can give back to the Lord for what He has done for us? There is a hint in the Gospel passage — Jesus asked His followers to make His joy complete. That is quite a thought. It is in our power to complete the Lord’s joy. 

To do that, we are invited to keep His commandments. The Gospel of John is rather vague on specifics, but we can certainly surmise that loving and abiding in Jesus are the essential elements of all of them. Love is a golden cord joining God the Father, Jesus and all those who abide or dwell in Him. This enables us to know and love God and to be known and loved in return. 

The Lord’s joy consists in having us as close friends, for He did not come to be worshipped from afar. Friendship with Jesus, friendship with God and with one another — not a bad community and family! Unfortunately, this divine offer is so seldom taken seriously and for most is not a reality. 

He promises to share with us as friends all that He has received and heard from God the Father. We are invited to walk beside Him just as He walks beside us — as friends. When the relationship is this close, He assures us that whatever we ask in His name will be granted. 

There is a catch: These promises are founded on His commandment to love one another just as He loved us. His love was expressed in His willingness to embrace the cross for our sakes and He drives home the point again: The greatest love is to lay down one’s life for others.

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