6th Sunday of Easter
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles contains one of the most important passages in all of Holy Scripture. The Roman centurion Cornelius, a Gentile but a god-fearing man, had sent messengers to summon Peter to his house. Before the messengers arrived Peter had a vision in which God had shown him that no one, whatever their race or nation, could be called unclean or unworthy. When Peter arrived at the home of Cornelius, he realized that the vision had meant that he could share a meal with a non-Jewish person. He says,
In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
Is acceptable to him.
Is that all there is to it? Do we just have to fear God and act uprightly? What does it mean to fear God? Maybe, respect is a better word. But how do we respect God and act uprightly? Today’s gospel provides the answer. This passage is taken from the last words of Jesus to his disciples before his Passion and Death. Last week, he referred to Himself as the vine and told us to remain attached to Him like the branches of the vine. This week he tells us that the way to remain attached to Him is to keep his commandments.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
And remain in his love.
Ordinarily, we don’t like commandments. We get our backs up at a long list of do’s and don’ts. But the commandment of Jesus seems remarkably simple.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
It is true that Jesus is predicting his own suffering and death in this passage but I don’t think he is saying that we all have to suffer a cruel persecution like so many Christian martyrs suffer even in our own time. He is saying that his disciples will have to lead a life of selflessness, not selfishness. If we want to love Him, we will have to love one another. Throughout the gospels Jesus deflects our love away from himself to our neighbor. All four of our gospels can be traced back to those who had a direct contact with Jesus, and they all understood that the message of the risen Lord was Love.
In today’s second reading St. John says, "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love."
He doesn’t say that God loves us or that we ought to love God, but that God is Love. I think that so many people today reject even the idea of God because they still can only imagine an angry old man hurling thunderbolts at poor humans below. Also, in our scientific age they can’t see God, they can’t feel, or hear, or measure or count Him. He is beyond the experience of our senses.
But what if we could wrap ourselves around the idea of Love being God? We can’t see, or hear, or measure Love but who doubts its existence? Who, but some very unhappy people, would ever admit that they don’t believe in Love?
Atheists say that they do not believe in God but I believe that most atheists believe in Love as much as anyone. Everyone wants to love and be loved. Most of our songs are about love. Songwriters and poets attribute to Love all the characteristics that theologians attribute to God. For example, Love is in the air, Love rules the world, or Love is here to stay. They even speak of everlasting and eternal Love.
To fear God and live uprightly means simply to love one another, especially those entrusted to our care. The early Christians who St. John addressed in his letter would have understood the message.
Beloved, let us love one another,
Because love is of God…
Reading 1. Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Reading II. I John 4: 7-10
Gospel. John 15: 9-17 (love one another)