Sixth Sunday of Easter
God is constantly enlarging the boundaries of love, and we are invited to adapt our lives to ever inclusive patterns of love. This is Jesus’ final message which also brims with words of affirmation: ‘You are my friends!’ Jesus’ discourse is about farewell, assurances, final instructions and promises – promises to remain with them. Jesus’ parting words summarise his words concerning our call to love the ‘other’ especially the most vulnerable. He is our point of reference – seeing the world with the eyes of God and it is less likely that our decisions will come out of greed, revenge, or prejudice and involve countering dominating and controlling structures that prevent people from experiencing life to the full. Keeping the commandments does not involve legalism but the heart, relationship, with the other and with God. we are taken on another direction. When love of neighbour is uppermost our relationship to neighbour, the excluded, the unheard takes on a different meaning.
According to the readings, we hear that no one is beyond God’s reach and concerns. Peter’s response in Acts of the Apostles is somewhat similar to Pope Francis' I important remark ‘Who am I to judge?’ when it seemed that he was being cornered on the question about LGBT Catholics. The reading from Acts suggests another conflict where Peter was being caught between popular opinion and the presence of the Spirit. Peter’s conclusion was more momentous than Francis' ‘Who am I to judge?’ Peter’s hearers are assured: ‘You are filled with the Holy Spirit!’ It is an inclusive ‘you’ – Jews and gentiles. Peter’s three visions of inclusivity enabled him and his community to go the threshold of and die to familiar ways of identity, community, and purpose, in order to enter the possibility of inclusion of Gentiles as we saw with Cornelius' household. The inclusive ‘new’ Peter can say, ‘I get it. God doesn’t play favourites. In every people, God accepts those who fear God and work for justice’ (cf. Acts 10:34-35). No one is beyond God’s concerns – even Cornelius. We see how Peter comes to understand that God’s open heart to all. Today’s scriptures hit right at the heart of the meaning of equality. God’s love is for all people and creation. It is not partial. No one is more precious or prestigious in God’s eyes nor more lowly than anyone else. Let’s remember that John’s early listeners were probably disenfranchised with no synagogue to express their faith.
Here is the one time Jesus says this. ‘I do not call you servants …but friends.’ Friendship is our second circle of kin. Friends fill in for family when family is lost. They kept the love alive by loving as Jesus loved them and called them to continue that one world-disrupting evening. It’s up to us to live this disrupting love in a world that needs more disrupting and waking up. Our assumptions are being disrupted in many ways by First Nations people, by women, by youth, by LGBTIQ people, people on the lowest rung of society. We are turning things around. The clincher is relationships that bridge isolation, that connects rather than divides. People are called to places they have never dreams of living, spending time with people they would not want to be with, loving nature and land intimately, finding that our hearts can be broken yet our hope rising nonetheless. Through joy and a commitment to loving one another, we subvert isolation, we build bridges rather than walls. We dare to care. Love is a choice made over and over again. Like those in John’s community, we fill in where Jesus is needed and keep love alive. God’s love in Jesus for us cannot stop with us.
Jesus’ appearances are constant affirmations that we are loved and thus encouraged to enlarge our hearts, break-down barriers, and enlarge our horizons in order to ‘incarnate’ or ‘enflesh’ God’s merciful and compassionatelove for us into concrete expressions of love for others, and keep asking ‘Who's missing? Who's not here who should be here?’ We too need to affirm, encourage, raise up, love and do justice for others who are also friends of Jesus.
Jesus calls us to open places in our lives for anyone considered ‘other’ in our church or society. If we take our relationship with Jesus seriously – that of friend rather than servant – then our orientation towards the other takes on new meaning which we saw in Peter. Being a friend by Jesus empowers us to love as he did. We have all had some experience of meeting people different to us, sitting with them and listening to them, getting to know them and then finding that our position, our perspective and standpoint can and does shift. Peter realised that what God has made clean should not be considered profane or unclean. This explodes the ‘us and them’ mentality towards a ‘we and they’ mentality.
Peter’s encounters with gentile or non-Jewish people (originally considered beyond God’s concern) forced him to reexamine his own history, his training, and his prejudices. That exclusiveness continues towards Asian people, Black people and people of colour, gay, lesbian and transgender people. It is a painful reminder that we need to continue to work to understand and embrace the radical inclusiveness of God’s reign. We realise that our solidarity with others does not depend on a particular language because solidarity has many languages.
Pope Francis and Bishop Long (Parramatta) have taken many hits from people wanting a more legalistic and controlling approach to people. The teaching on love, mercy, and compassion is not new or trendy. This is Jesus’ teaching for us today when he speaks to us as friend. We are his friends, and we are called to ‘befriend’ others. Jesus knows the world will ‘persecute’ those who follow him and his teachings. ‘Success’ will not be based by the standards of achievement, stature, property acquired, popularity that we often associate with a successful life.
As Easter is ending, Pentecost is two weeks from catching fire. Love is the passion/energy of God's justice, and joy is its mark. This love and joy should mark our worship and witness. We are called to reflect God and mirror God’s love. To arrive at the heart of the meaning of loving, we need to regularly be with Jesus, who incarnates God’s love and action in the world. The image of the beloved disciple, John, who placed his ear close to the heart of Jesus is an important one for me. Though his ears and attention are on the heart of Jesus, his eyes are caste outwards to the world.
As we look out towards that world we are aware of that our world is facing a devastating biodiversity crisis as the vast ecosystems of our planet are unravelling which have been connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. As we look out at that world so many sisters and brothers are dying in India of Covid-19 as countries such as Australia, the USA and Britain argue about sharing intellectual patents and providing the means to develop vaccines. As we look out at that world, people are dying in Myanmar at the hands of a brutal junta whilst other countries still trade with them and provide them with arms - not mention being silent. As we look out, the people of the Philippines have for centuries lived with colonialism under the Spaniards and the USA and brutal regimes since who oppress the people with impunity and our government supports this brutality with military aid. The facts and statistics continue and leave us helpless, but Jesus preached a radical love that urges us to be in solidarity for anyone who is oppressed – to be hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth as Pope Francis says in Laudato si’ and more recently in Fratelli tutti. It is in this solidarity and action that hope comes. Pope Francis pleads that the effects of our encounter with Jesus become evident in our relationship with the world. We may feel helpless but people like Greta Thunberg reminds us that ‘Hope is found in action. When we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope – look for action. Then the hope will come.’ So when people live out the call to love one another and our Mother Earth, we see signs of the resurrection and doing life differently.