May 10, 2015
THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Experiencing the Spirit of Christ
Inventory (Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B)
What gives me the greatest joy in life right now? Does it ever cause me to say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!”?
Everything in the liturgy is speaking to us of joy. The Entrance Antiphon begins: “Speak out with a voice of joy….” This is a joy that is spread by love: “Let it be heard to the ends of the earth!” And why do we rejoice? It is because God is giving new life to us and extending this life to the whole world: “The Lord has set his people free!”
The Opening Prayer begins, “Ever-living God, help us to celebrate our joy… and to express in our lives the joy we celebrate.” Love can’t keep joy to itself. The alternative Opening Prayer looks to the day when joy will be complete throughout the whole redeemed and risen human race: “May our mortal lives be crowned with the ultimate joy of rising with him.”
The Responsorial Psalm celebrates the inclusion of the whole human race in this joy: “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power” (Psalm 97). The Church rejoices because the power of the risen Jesus is shown in the extension of his saving love to every person on earth.
From Law to Spirit
In Acts 10: 25-48 God taught Peter a lesson that altered his whole understanding of the Church’s ministry. Peter had been praying on the flat roof of his house when he saw in vision a net filled with creatures Jews were forbidden to eat. A voice from heaven said, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter, who never hesitated to contradict God (see Matthew 16:22) answered as a law-abiding Jew, "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean” — to which the voice responded, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane!”
This happened three times, and Peter was still “greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen.” He was not a fast learner.
Then some men came to invite him to the house of a Roman centurion, Cornelius, who with his non-Jewish friends wanted to hear about Jesus. Peter went, although he said to them, "You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Peter was catching on.
Then an extraordinary thing happened. While Peter was telling them about Jesus, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word,” and the Jewish Christians who had come with Peter “were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”
This converted Peter from a legalist to an apostle! He said, “Can anyone withhold the water of baptism from these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized.
This decision, with Paul’s extended ministry to the Gentiles, surfaced the division within the Church between the “Pharisee party” whose loyalty was to the rules and customs they grew up with, and those who responded to the Holy Spirit. That division still splits the Church today and will do so until Christ comes in glory. Phariseeism was, is and always will be the most destructive virus in Christianity.
The Law of Love:
1John 4: 7-10 gives us the only real answer to this. It is love. John, by the end of his life, had made it his theme song: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God… Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Jesus taught Peter this three times (John 21: 15-17 ). He kept asking Peter, “Do you love me?” And each time Peter said he did, Jesus answered, “Feed my sheep.”
If we know Jesus, know his mind and heart, and not just his laws, we will try above all things to heal and nurture and encourage one another — especially those who “have most need of mercy”: the sinful and straying and confused, those who feel excluded and rejected by the Church. We will interpret laws by love. Then we will have the “mind of Christ” and the true mind of the Church (see 1Corinthians 2:12 to 3:15).
The “Jesus Command”
In John 15: 9-17 Jesus tells us that to “remain in his love” we must keep his commandments. Then he summarizes all of his commandments in one: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” To do this we have to understand his love and know his heart, just as Jesus understood the Father’s love and knew his heart. We have to grow into intimate friendship with Jesus Christ.
This is what he offers us: “I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father.” The key to ministry, to prophetic witness, to the transformation of the world as faithful stewards of Christ’s kingship, is simply this: intimate knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. He is the vine, we the branches. We bear fruit by letting his love give life through us.
It is through love, the love that moved Jesus to “lay down his life for his friends,” that “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”
And continues to reveal it.
When do I feel most united to Christ: when I am condemning others for their faults or nurturing them with love? When I am “standing up for the law” or adapting the law with love?
Use “ the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22)— love, joy and peace —as a “rule of thumb” to discern whether you are thinking with the “mind of Christ.”.