Fifth Sunday of Easter
There is a story of a small boy who left his house with Twinkies and juice boxes after telling his mother that he is going to find God. He sits on a bench at a local park next to a homeless woman and offers her a Twinkie and some juice. After eating, talking and enjoying each other they both leave. When his mother asks, ‘Did you find God?’ he responds, ‘Yes, and God is a woman!’ When the woman joins her friends, she says, ‘I met God in the park today – and God is a little boy!’ Both, the boy and the woman, manifested God where they were, and the way they related to each other. ‘Where I am you also may be’ and ‘Whoever believes in me will do the work that I do.’
Both characters reflect the spaciousness of God’s heart in first reading and the Gospel. The readings challenge us to participate in God’s reconciling and healing work whilst trusting in God for the outcome. A question for us is how our faith interacts with whatever crisis strikes our world, and our engagement with them. Miroslav Volk, in The Spacious Heart says sin is about excluding another from one's heart and world: ‘Sin is a refusal to embrace others in their otherness and a desire to purge them from one's world, by ostracism or oppression, deportation or liquidation… the exclusion of the other is the exclusion of God.’
When Jesus says, ‘Do our hearts become troubled’ he is reassuring, comforting and encouraging people for whom Good Friday seems to be a daily occurrence. They face violence in word and action, natural disasters, everyday poverty and neglect and how the pandemic that we have now forgotten about impacts and impacted mostly on people who are poor and vulnerable. Yet, God’s reign of justice still breaks through often in people and places we least expect: in every neighbourhood; hospices and hospitals; among those who live and work in solidarity with people seeking asylum and though unable to do much for them at least listen to their stories and believe them.
As there are many rooms in God’s house, there are many ways of coming to God and loving God and neighbour. There are many ways of being with God, too. First Nations people, people from the Middle East and Asia, have always believed that a principle responsibility is hospitality and welcome – feeding people and making room or space for others. When we think of our Earth as God’s reign, the homeland of the Creator, there is room for everybody if we share. Jesus’ words are not just words of comfort for the dying, but a challenge for living communities and to live life to the full. Radical hospitality invites us to actively make room for the marginalised, the excluded, the vulnerable, and the outsider.
Today’s gospel invites us to be so grounded, ‘at home’, in our sense of belonging to God that nothing deters us from acting each day with passion and power. It also assures those who do not always feel at home – the rejected and outsiders – of the One who works through us in ways that many people cannot imagine. We belong in God’s house. Jesus is promising us that he will make room, to make hospitable, livable, and welcome, God’s reign here on earth. Jesus prepares a place for his disciples - and we are also called to make a place for others. This occurs when we make room for others, recognise each person with dignity rather than fear.
It is not meant to be celestial dormitory for ‘good behaviour,’ but where God connects with and intersects in our lives: where mercy and forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, healing, love, beauty, wisdom, hope, courage, joy, intimacy become the dwelling places for troubled hearts today. We reside in God’s house, God’s world, when we live out these qualities.
The God Jesus embodies is not distant from the problems of healthcare, hunger and homelessness. ‘He who sees me, sees the Father.’ Jesus embodies a God who can be seen and touched and touches us. It is found in churches, synagogues, and mosques but even more on the street where Jesus lived among a colonised and despised people. God is found in the lives and needs of the poor, the ill, and despised and calls out to us. Do we have any spare rooms? The emphasis is on this world – on also ministering in language and culture outside traditional structures which include eating together, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, on elimination of poverty, and sharing all things in common.
The reading from Acts manifests discrimination in the community. Some members were favoured over the poor and vulnerable [widows], but also those of diverse language and culture, who were neglected or unjustly treated. The Seven were sent not just to distribute food, but according to contemporary scholars, but to minister according to their culture, context and language in what was a diverse Jerusalem Christian community with people identifying as Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic and Hellenists who spoke Greek. Because language was/is symbolic of various cultural differences, tensions ensued. So Seven people were called to reach out to people where they were and minister God’s word. We could ask who is crying out for care, ministry, attention and presence today; who craves to be nourished in places and settings that do not always fit traditional structures – woman, people with disability, the young, the elderly, people in prison or hospital, LGBTIQA+ people. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis cautions that when conflicts are not resolved but kept hidden, the silence can lead to complicity in grave misdeeds. He says, ‘Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest and patient negotiation.’ Francis says genuine dialogue involves looking at the other with care, listening deeply, touching the other, speaking, cultivating compassion and creating a ‘culture of encounter’ without which community is not possible. We cannot in Peter’s words, be the chosen race and royal priesthood, a spiritual house, if we are not open to one another, especially in our differences.
When we see Jesus, we see God at work. He reveals God's presence and love. We see Jesus when a person reflects the heart of Jesus. Those who by their presence and compassion stand in solidarity with people who are excluded and victimised by economic and political systems and thus driven deeper into poverty. That ‘spacious heart’ which Miroslav Volf refers to, challenges us as we approach Sorry Day and the Week of National Reconciliation later this month, and the Referendum on the Voice later this year. We must allow God’s Spirit breathe through us to allow this to happen.
This is possible if we do not allow ourselves to be held captive to old narratives that cannot see reality through the eyes of the so-called ‘victim’. This is the only true narrative. We need to free ourselves from our limited perception of things and the lifestyles and agendas that narrow our perceptions. Jesus offers us new notions of power - the power to serve and not master, to die but not to kill, to bring order and not dominate. If God's Spirit is to breathe through us then we must also break from the gods of militarism, nationalism, and materialism.
Though Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled!’ we may need our hearts to be troubled at times to preserve our humanity, e.g., when we do not appreciate that all things are interconnected; when more buckets of money are spent on armaments for more buckets of blood; when we go to war based on lies; when we use more and more of the earth’s resources and cause more damage to the environment; when we do not recognise how our history, national policies, and consumerism contributes to the suffering of others; when much of the chocolate, other food stuffs we eat, and clothes we wear has blood on it from the blood and suffering of children used in slavery; when we fail to empathise with the suffering of others or walk away from injustice; and, when we ignore the call for reconciliation rather than face the truth of our history?
Today’s gospel is double-edged. It is both comforting and challenging. It points to the space God makes for us as well as the space we are to make for others. It points to God’s passion for humanity as well as our passion in which we find our humanity. There is room enough for everyone! Yes, ‘there are many rooms in God’s house.’
Living God, build us into a spiritual house.
Precious Christ, infuse us with the assurance of our preciousness.
Holy Spirit, help us stand as a holy nation,
called to be light to a world living in darkness and fear.
Abba, be Home to all who are rejected
from their families and churches,
and to us who travel roads unknown.
May we stay persistent in prayer,
stand grounded in our identity as God’s own people
and be bold in our proclamation of your love.