Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Easter readings have been about creating community where God’s/heaven’s priorities of peace, justice, equality, and healing are enfleshed, beginning with those nearest to us. The life we are called to does not remove us from the world but directs us toward a new community - new way of relating - that includes all people. In the second reading we hear, ‘You see this city? Here God lives among humankind. God will make a home among them, and they shall be God’s people and God will be fully present with them. The Most High, will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, for the old order has passed away.’ We must ensure that Gospel values penetrate the very fabric of society if it is to be transformed to reflect God’s Reign where God is seen to identify with the vulnerable, the afflicted and disadvantaged.
Despite Australia’s relative wealth, we must be aware how this can fall short of a more inclusive and humane community. Racism, the needs of the poor, the aged, people with disability, the homeless, the Indigenous people, the asylum seekers and the fragile environment are often disregarded. The gap between the rich and the poor at home and abroad is not bridged. Our real or imagined success and prosperity can make us indifferent to and insulate us from people longing for the crumbs that fall from our table.
The first reading depicts a small and poor Christian community that was generous, courageous, outward-looking and boundary-breaking. Despite external pressures and persecution, it embraced radical solidarity with possessions held in common. Paul and Barnabas shared the Good News beyond the confines of their world and accepted gentiles as equal members within their group. Despite controversies and disputed about circumcision and admission of gentiles, people continually discerned how to embody Jesus’ teachings in their context. Jesus’ love was not confined to the interpersonal sphere. It was political as we saw in Jesus’ first sermon: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ He prioritised the needs of the poor which entailed nonviolent resistance to those who aligned themselves with imperialism. He resisted imperialism which was, and is, central to the oppression of peoples not to mention endorsed by many who claim to be religious.
Today’s readings highlight the ‘politics of love.’ It is the only realistic way of peace, justice and saving our planet. Our faith can often be parochial, xenophobic, and anthropocentric. We privilege our spirituality, our view of church, our culture, and ethnicity. In defending the breaking down of barriers between Jews and Gentiles where Cornelius was admitted to the community, the emerging faith implicitly acknowledged that diversity as a gift of God, and that God is revealed in diverse ways, according to culture, ethnicity, and personal experience. The vision of radical love, acceptance, compassion, and solidarity were foundational. Though with affluence and power, the community’s influence grew because it was not afraid to trust and love without limits. Here Jesus’ followers were turning the world on its head by loving one another in the face of denial and betrayal. This love was and is unleashed on the world. It is unleashed on the risen and wounded Jesus among us who is not pretty to look at – in the drug addict, the person out of prison, and the Russian soldier.
In the farewell discourse with his disciples after Judas departed into the night, Jesus dreams of leaving a legacy that invites them to love each other amid conflict, name-calling, and deep division. Speaking comforting and reassuring words, Jesus exhorted them to live by his example: ‘I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.’ This command is old - and new. Its newness lay in defining neighbour to include ever widening circles of people: people like us and not like us; people likeable and unlikeable. Jesus extended the meaning of true love by his embrace of the most vulnerable, despised, and marginalised and embodied the God who loves without limits and empowers everyone to live a life of dignity. Each is a sister or brother. We are kin. Each an image of God. To love as Jesus loved is controversial because it is a love without restrictions and without exclusion which was too radical for some religious leaders and for many today. ‘God loves everyone, but…..’
The vision or dream in the Book of Revelation points to the world as it is meant to be and calls us o make it a reality. It means that the old must pass for a new heaven and new earth to emerge. We currently don’t live in such an idyllic world, but we can begin to act as if it is coming and seek to make our lives reflect God’s reign. We can wipe away tears and minimize needless pain. The way forward is through love and the ‘one another’ is not just fellow followers of Jesus but all creation which expands to human and non-human communities. This love mirrors God’s love for us, and our love reflects God’s love for all creation in its diversity and calls us to the same all-encompassing love though limited and fallible at times. For this to happen some things that to do not conform to the Gospel must die in the Church so that we can rise to new and fresh ways of being present in solidarity with people today. This love is fearful because it means turning away from the injustice we commit because of excessive self-love. Love necessarily requires us to act justly if love is authentic. The African American theologian, Cornel West, says, .…’justice is what love looks like in public.’
The command to love one another is like a candle in a world that can be dark, brutal violent and dangerous. Jesus demonstrates his love for people who will fail him miserably. It is love not based on merit or theological correctness or moral purity. It is quite simply by our loving acts – acts of service and sacrifice, acts that point to the love of God for the world made known in Jesus Christ.
The good news of Easter in a violent world seems to be a fragile message. It may seem strange given all the hatred, denial, neglect, and indifference we witness. What is one man rising from the dead in the face of all this carnage? Where is the ‘As I have loved you, you also should love one another…..’? Pain, regret, addictions, prejudice, bereavement, violence, and senseless suffering persist. Where is this love when we enable the rise and perpetuation of institutions that harness and amply some of the words aspects of behaviour and thought? During the election campaign we have heard ‘A fair go for those who will have a go’ but so many are having a go but still not get a fair go. Where does this attitude people who for whatever reason cannot even have a go because of where they are, their background, their social or psychological or physical status? Where does this candle exist in these circumstances? How do the voice at the margins get heard and the circle of compassion expand where people become aware that we belong to each other? This love might include as Gregory Boyle sj, says, ‘Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it. Paul and Barnabas established new communities which required them to open doors that are closed and remove whatever prevented people from coming out of their tombs of prejudice, fear, jealousy, greed. This is often in contrast to failure to interrupt the silence of injustice, to respond to the appeals for assistance from our Pacific Island sisters and brothers, or the appeals from West Papua, Myanmar, and the Philippines for justice.
We live in a world where no one is truly a stranger bound together as companions on our fragile planet. Each moment can be saving, and if it be human or non-human, we contribute to building that new heaven and new earth. It will not happen when we glorify war, when we continue to threaten other nations, and when we fail to see the devastation that conflict brings to people. It will not happen if we think that we have nothing to learn from each other. It will not happen when we believe we are superior to others. It will not happen if we allow increasing numbers of people live in poverty and inequality. It will not happen when build more prisons rather than work to rehabilitate. The vision of a new heaven and a new earth involves raising our voices for social and economic justice and a sustainable future. This future includes recognising the so-called ‘enemy’ as blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh. This future includes people not allowing hate, revenge, or violence determine their response to others.
When we love one another, the church can model life out of death; model how the old can be renewed. But it must enflesh a vision of renewed love and capacity for change. This is an ongoing process - of always showing mercy, offering hope, welcome and forgiveness. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Your ‘yes’ to God requires you ‘no’ to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violence of the weak and the poor.”
‘Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcome, loved and forgiven’ (Pope Francis).
We did not choose to be created in your image, God.
And we did not choose to be related to the rest of your creation,
so much of which seems to us to bear such a striking lack of resemblance.
And yet, we are a part of one another.
Despite all of the things,
real or imagined,
understood or denied,
recognised or ignored,
that manage to set us apart from one another,
Help us to recognize and celebrate our kinship to one another,
and to you, our Source.
Out in Scripture
Ubuntu David Hayward, The Naked Pastor, May 3, 2020