Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles once more provides an Easter season liturgy with its first reading.
In this reading, Peter goes to the house of Cornelius, who attempts to pay homage to Peter. Peter stops him, protesting that he is only human. Peter is not God, but he obviously represents Christ. The Lord had commissioned him. The Holy Spirit empowered him.
Cornelius is a Gentile. His name suggests that he may have been a Roman. In all likelihood, the relatives and guests of Cornelius present in the house were Gentiles. Probably some, or many, were Romans.
For devout, loyal Jews, if anything was worse than being a Gentile and of pagan stock, it was being a Roman. After all, Jews were living under the crushing heel of Rome at the time. They despised representatives of the Roman occupation.
Yet, Peter went into the home of Cornelius. The Gentiles present understood what he was saying. They became part of the Christian community, or the Church. They became brothers and sisters of Christ, heirs to eternal life.
Through Peter, God reached out to Gentiles — despite the fact that their backgrounds were in paganism and quite likely in sin.
The First Epistle of John is the source of the second reading. This epistle calls upon followers of Jesus to love each other. It states that God is love. God’s love for humanity was revealed in the gift of Jesus, and in the salvation achieved by Jesus for all who turn to God.
St. John’s majestic, compelling Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is a reservoir of theology, presented in the most eloquent language.
This reading’s message is frank and direct. If anyone truly loves God, then he will keep the Commandments. By observing the Commandments, people live in God’s love. They imitate Christ. Living in God’s love produces joy. It creates union with God in Christ.
As the reading concludes, Jesus declares that no love exceeds the love that impels a person to surrender life itself so that a friend may live. “You are my friends,” Jesus says.
In the sequence of John’s Gospel, this passage is not post-Resurrection. The Crucifixion looms ahead. Jesus awaits Good Friday. For us, on Good Friday, Jesus willingly submitted to death on the cross. He chose to die for us, that we might live and live eternally. He loved us with a perfectly unselfish love.
Then, as the reading closes, Jesus instructs us “to love one another.”
The second reading makes quite clear the theological fact that loving is not simply an activity of God. It says that God is love. What does this mean? It means that God is alive, active and reaching to us, excluding no one. God forgives. God empowers. God transforms all products of divine loving.
God is our Father, and therefore humans should resemble God, just as children bear the genetic imprint of natural parents.
When Christians are called to love each other, they are asked to be what they should be if sin did not mar and distort circumstances. Created by God, redeemed by God, Christians properly should mirror God.
We are humans. This is our species, but we are God’s children. We should resemble God, and we humans can resemble God, in all the goodness implied, because we can love God and love each other.
Love is much more than warm-heartedness or kind gestures, more than imprecise, half-hearted good intentions, the Lord explained in the Gospel reading. It is keeping the Commandments.
How can we learn the Commandments? Where is the strength to keep the Commandments? How can we truly love?
Christ is in the Church, offering us the sacraments and God’s Word. Jesus lived through Peter. Jesus still lives.
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