Chosen to be Friends
Sixth Sunday of Easter. fr Peter reflects upon the Christian calling to friendship.
Jesus was Jewish. Peter, John, the apostles, Mary and Joseph were all Jewish. As Christians we sometimes forget this. We have just kept the feast of St.Joseph. The main emphasis of the feast was on Joseph as a worker, but another traditional theme is how Jesus cared for his dying father Joseph. Joseph died as a good Jew. So why are we not Jewish? Why don’t we habitually eat kosher food?
Luke writing the Acts of the Apostles tries to answer this question. He was writing for church communities which included Jewish converts but who were mainly Gentiles, non-Jews. The first disciples had all been Jews. How had things changed? Even more importantly, why had things changed? The simple answer is, the resurrection of Jesus.
Today’s first reading from Acts introduces us to Cornelius, a Roman centurion, an eminent non-Jew. He had received a vision and, following this revelation, he sent for St.Peter. When Peter arrives Cornelius prostrates himself before Peter in a gesture of humility. Peter raises Cornelius up to his feet, they are both men, Peter himself is not salvation. Peter is the messenger of salvation, but he and Cornelius, though Cornelius’s faith, become essentially equal as fellow believers. Cornelius and his household are to be baptized promptly, adults and babies. The Holy Spirit comes down upon this household. Jesus has laid down his life for Cornelius just as much as for Peter, or for you and me. Peter realizes that God does not have favourites. Cornelius and his household believe, and the Jewish believers who have accompanied Peter see and recognize the Holy Spirit poured out over this household. God gives the Holy Spirit to Jews and to non-Jews.
Luke has told us the story of Cornelius after Peter has had a vision affirming that he may eat non-kosher animals. This vision continues to stimulate the debate within the church, recorded by Luke in Acts, not only as to the eating of kosher food, but much wider; how much of the Jewish law and traditions are to be followed by this new resurrection -believing community, the Christian community, by ourselves.
During the history of the church, some issues keep cropping up, money-lending (usury) and slavery for example. A great modern issue is protection of the environment, and we await Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on this issue. As Catholic Christians we acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has been at work in Christian women and men down through the centuries, people living and teaching the gospel in their lives, even if not always perfectly!
Jesus in today’s gospel passage tells us “What I command you, is to love one another”. We, as members of the church, as disciples of Jesus, are chosen to be friends of Jesus, if we do what we are commanded by God. We are not to be called servants, because we know what God wants. But what does what God want us to do? To love one another!
So simple, but how do we live this out. I am preparing this sermon as a general election campaign reaches its climax, where there is a great dealing of talking, a lot of promising and posturing, and quite a lot of scare-mongering about political opponents. But how are we as Christian people to love one another?
First we must love each other in the church. There can be no room for distinctions of race or caste or gender. Even if people sin or misunderstand the faith somewhat, we are to love them, not despise them as second-rate.
Second we must love our neighbour as ourselves. When we voted, did we choose self-interest or the best sustainable way of supporting the sick, the unemployed, the desperate refugees or the earthquake victims? How do we value the dignity of other human beings, from conception through to death?
Mentioning death, takes me back to the death of St.Joseph. Here I must mention that I have spent many years as a hospital chaplain. How do we as Christians support other people to die well? Dying well is part of living well. Jesus laid down his life for us, his friends. How do we lay down our lives in death well, in hope of the resurrection of the body and eternal life?
Readings: Acts 10:25-26.34-35.44-48|1 John 4:7-10|John 15:9-17