Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles once again provides the first reading for a weekend in the Easter season.
In this reading, the Apostle Peter enters the house of Cornelius, who falls to his knees to give homage to the leader of the followers of Jesus. Graciously, Peter lifts Cornelius to his feet. Then, Peter insists that he has no partiality among persons of various ethnic and national backgrounds, because God has no such partiality.
At the moment of this testimony of faith and of true discipleship, the Holy Spirit descends into the group present, including the gentiles. Peter says that anyone so prompted by the Spirit cannot be denied baptism by water.
To set the stage for this reading, it is important to know that Cornelius was not Jewish. His name was Roman. He was a gentile, part of the detested occupying pagan power. His associates almost certainly were gentiles.
Despite all this, Peter entered the home of Cornelius, unbelievable for a devout Jew such as Peter. Peter went, nevertheless, insisting that everyone should have access to God, and that God welcomes all. Finally, God, in the Holy Spirit, comes into the hearts of all. The Spirit was with Peter. Peter brought all into the company of faith by baptizing them with water.
The First Letter of John is the source of the next reading. This reading is a moving and especially descriptive message about God’s love. God is love. God is in Jesus. Love is in God. Marvelously, God shares this divine love with the faithful.
God’s love, and living according to God’s love, brings joy, indeed a joy unequalled by anything on earth.
The test of loving God is in obeying the Commandments. God revealed the Commandments, and He perfectly revealed the divine plan for salvation through and in Jesus.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. As did the second reading, this proclamation of the Gospel centers upon the love of God.
In this reading, God’s love is celebrated. The Lord’s willing, sacrificial death on Calvary proved His love. “There is no greater than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Because of uniting with Jesus in faith and love, disciples are friends of God. For the ancient Jews, as well as others in their Mediterranean world, friendship arguably was much more powerful in its meaning than it is today. It meant an intense bond, a loyalty.
Truly loving God means to love others.
The image of the vine occurs again. Disciples are the branches. Christ is the great, main vine. If linked to Christ, disciples live. They produce much fruit.
The reading closes with the wonderful admonition, and command, of Jesus to “love one another.”
Carefully and deliberately, the Church is leading us forward to the feast of the Ascension. It is if we Christians had been standing beside the Apostles in the days following the resurrection, hearing with them the words of the risen Jesus, seeing as they saw the wonder of life victorious over death.
Now, the mood slightly shifts. The Church is preparing us for life after the Ascension. The obligation of genuine discipleship is upon us. What does it mean?
Jesus calls us “to love one another.” He is the model. Loving all others is a challenge for mere mortals, always and today. Yet, it is possible.
It is possible because strength and insight come to any true believer from the Holy Spirit — insight that brings direction, stamina, peace and joy. Discipleship is outreaching and great in its compassion and service. It comes to anyone who earnestly seeks God, even if they are tempted by sin.
These words may seem charming and idealistic. They are demanding. The difficulty is in truly loving all, the strangers, the unwanted — even sinners — and serving all.
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