6th Sunday of Easter
13 May 2012
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 Jn 4:7-10
The Acts of the Apostles and John's Gospel come to the fore during the Easter Season. Acts give us a refresher course in the reality of early Church history, including the conflicts and squabbles. John's Gospel recalls for us Jesus' teaching on love, most particularly during the farewell discourse. There is much here on which to meditate.
One of the things that formerly mystified me over the years (it now merely amuses me) is apostle bashing. Apostle bashing is a popular indoor sport for theological and scripture types. It reaches its apogee during Lent when we are reminded of the apostles misstatements and miscues and, of course, of Peter's triple denial. Alas, the bashers never admit, they are perhaps blissfully unaware, that their underlying assumptions are: I never would have acted that way. I never would have misunderstood, rejected, or tried to manipulate Jesus were I there. The reality is that none of us would have responded any better than the apostles at best and, most likely, would have reacted to Jesus' teaching more like the Pharisees or Judas at worst. The bashers have much less to say about the apostles' behavior and motivations, especially Peter's, after Jesus' glorification. You don't have to be too psychiatrically sophisticated--though it helps--to figure out the dynamic underlying that.
Over the past weeks we have seen a different Peter, a Peter who is confident, eloquent and humble as opposed to the brash, shoot-from-the-hip-and-the-lip target of the bashers. The man who swung a sword in Gethsemane is now abashed by Cornelius' homage. "Get up. I myself am also a human being."
This particular reading from Acts was, for whatever reason, fragmented by those who put together the lectionary. We miss much of what the newly eloquent Peter said to Cornelius and those assembled at his home. We miss the background that makes Peter's assertion radical.
That God is impartial, that whoever fears him and acts "uprightly is acceptable to him" was not, and is not, a new or uniquely Christian teaching. Xavier Leon-Dufour traces the evolution of understanding God's impartiality to the Old Testament beginning in the psalms and moving to Jonah. He writes, "And gradually we see the emergence of the idea that apart from the Jew Yahweh's love even embraces the pagans as well. . ." Thus it is no surprise that Peter ordered the Gentiles be allowed to be baptized.
The second reading from the First Letter of John and the reading from John's Gospel are perfectly intertwined. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" recalls Paul's Letter to the Romans, "(God) shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." John and Paul both defined the human condition; that we are sinners. And they limned God's response to that condition: His love. We are sinners loved by God. That is why we rejoice during this Easter Season. We are sinners loved by God and redeemed by God.
Jesus' valedictory words, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" are among the most well-known and poignant in John's Gospel. What is friendship with Jesus?
We have to work at all friendships. It takes time. It takes effort. I suspect all of us have had the experience of being so dazzled by a new acquaintance that within an unseemly short period of time we've decided that he or she is my new best friend forever. Too often, though, we become disillusioned. Or we cause disillusion in the other. We may suddenly reject or be rejected. Infatuation is a dangerous and painful state.
Friendship with Jesus is like those long-established ones that go back thirty or forty years or more. It doesn't need big mystical experiences, tear-inducing consolation at prayer or apparitions. It is the kind of friendship where both friends can sit together in a room in silence for hours on end without the need for constant stimulation, novelty, or activity. True friendship tolerates silence. Infatuation doesn't.
Friendship with Jesus involves living with Him day by day, walking with Him, listening to Him and being nourished by His word, His body and His blood. True friendship nourishes our lives and our souls.
One commentator on this Gospel notes that loving with utmost generosity and utter selflessness, even to laying down one's life, is not uniquely Christian. What distinguishes, or must distinguish, Christians is: when they love, they love as Christ loved them and BECAUSE he loved them.
Finally made the 4.1 mile drive to Walden Pond yesterday. Upon arrival there was a good new/bad news situation. Bad news: parking is $5. Good news: Massachusetts residents over 62 park free with a Mass. ID. Finally a goad to switch over my driver's license. The weather was beyond splendid. There were many people on the beach but the paths weren't too bad. It is not the easiest of places for photography in part because the paths are not wide. A tripod could be a real problem. I had it with me but did not use it. Perhaps on a Tuesday morning. The photos below are pure color abstractions of the interaction among the water, sun and wind. And a lot of manipulation via Aperture 3.
+Fr Jack, SJ, MD