Theme: Holy Spirit source of mutual love
As the early groups of Christian disciples grew and developed, they had to learn to cope with the ordinary frictions which were an inevitable aspect of inter-personal relationships. People of diverse character and background had to learn to relate to one another in mutual charity in order for Christianity to succeed. All members had to enter into the symbiosis which we call community. The Oxford English Dictionary defines symbiosis as ‘a mutual interactive relationship between two living things, usually to the advantage of both’. Today we are invited to a symbiosis which supports and sustains the Christian community. Even though before God we remain as helpless as birds in the nest, with mouths open wide to receive food, we are assured that God will never forget us.
First reading: Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Wherever explorers travel into uncharted territory for the first time, they begin to draw maps in order that those who come after them, or upon their return, will readily find their way. When the first believers in Jesus initially ventured into gentile territory, they found it necessary to follow the maps that were naturally in place. We may all be aware that people tend to map out lines which define and give meaning to their world in six basic areas: self, others, nature, time, space and God. For Jews only certain people, things and places were considered to be clean and therefore acceptable within the parameters of their cultural maps. Those outside their limits were regarded as unclean and were avoided.
The Gospels reveal how Jesus crossed over these centuries old boundaries and challenged others to behave similarly making the Church inclusive of all until today. The Church’s venture into uncharted territory was fraught with the human penchant for parochialism and discrimination. However, at every juncture, when human shortcomings threatened to detour the journey “to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” Luke 24:47, the Holy Spirit intervened. Luke carefully emphasizes the ongoing influence of the Spirit as he narrates Peter’s eventful eye-opening trip to Cornelius’ home in Acts 10:19 as was his insight regarding gentiles, “I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality” Acts 10:34. The Greek verb hypolambanomai/I begin to see is in the present progressive tense, indicates Peter’s recognition of God’s universal intentions as a work in progress. It is in line with this that Cornelius and his household were not asked questions about their faith but simply an amazing a self invitation to baptism.
Peter’s witness marks coincidence to the power of God who is visible and active among the gentiles. The scene recalls prophesy of Joel that “afterward I will pour my spirit upon all humanity” Joel 3:1 who echoes a similar outpouring of the Holy Spirit as mentioned here. The fact that Cornelius and the other gentile believers spoke in tongues praising God after the empowerment, is no less wondrous and authentic than those of their Jewish brothers and sisters. Surprised yet not without understanding, Peter then extended the invitation to baptism by saying “what can stop these people” Acts 10:47, has remained a moving one through all the centuries of the Church. Today this poses the challenge yet again. If God approves and empowers, who dares discriminate or deny?
Second reading: 1John 4:7-10
The message of this second reading is not a new one; it is repeated in every imaginable venue. Bumper stickers, public service vehicles ‘Have you hugged your kid today?’, placards at sporting events, psychologists, counselors and television anchors all continue to remind us of the importance of love and of being loved. While the author of this text may appear redundant, his repetitiveness should rather be understood as reassurance concerning an indispensable element in human activity. 1John is quick to make necessary connection between authentic human love and divine love cf. 1John 4:7-8. This highlights how we do not know how to love. Love is not known through human attraction and definitions but in our experience of God. God has afforded this experience of love to every human person in the gift of Jesus, sent into the world to embrace and redeem humankind through his saving death. 1 John does not only affirm that love is of God, he goes even further to state that God is love! cf. 1John 4:8.
The noble love of God which prompted the sending of the Son through the mystery of incarnation and his redemptive death as an offering for our sins is the source of life for each one of us and a motivation to continue loving until we are fully soaked. There are some of us who claim to know God when we are not because we do not manifest our knowledge of God by keeping the commandments. Today St. John reminds us not to forget and betray this value.
Gospel: John 15:9-17
In the course of human history, there have been many who have attempted a proper definition of a friend. For Aristotle, ‘a friend was a ‘single soul, dwelling in two bodies’. Experience teaches us that love does not consist of two people looking at each other, but of looking together in the same direction. Some anonymous writers have defined a friend as ‘one who multiplies joys and divides grief’. A friend is one who comes in when the whole world has gone out. Joshua ben Sirach states that “A faithful friend is a strong shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth” Ecclesiasticus 6:14, 15. Jesus showed the depths of his love by laying down his life so that we, his friends, might live and there is no greater love than this cf. John 15:13. The Gospel points out how the relationship between Jesus and his disciples progressed from a simple sentence of “Where do you live?” John 1:38. Jesus replied “come and see” John 1:39. Nevertheless, that progress was not without difficulty. At times Jesus shocked his followers with his behavior cf. John 4:27, frightened them with his strange actions cf. John 6:19, confused and shocked them cf. John 6:5, 60-66. But to those who remained faithful, he became the Way, the Truth and the Life cf. John 14:6.
Those whom he chooses; Jesus expects fidelity to the commandments, a fruitful responsible service and mutual symbiotic love. If these seem to be daunting challenges, the courage to move forward is hidden in remembering that “I am the vine, you are the branches” John 15:5. As branches united to the one good and sound vine, we are assured of bearing fruit. While most of us today may not be required to follow Jesus in his ultimate act of love such as the laying down of our lives, there are various large and small opportunities to assist us meet the desired target such as thinking and acting in terms of you rather than I. . .by willingly and joyfully placing the needs of others ahead of our own. . . by allowing another’s opinion prevail . . . by being the first to apologize regardless of who was wrong. . . by choosing a simple life style so that I can save to donate more to the needy. . . to volunteer time it would take to play eighteen holes of golf so as to clean the neighborhood. . . these are some ways to lay down one’s life for a friend.
Like Cornelius we need to respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit always waiting for us to say a radical yes. Love and keeping the commandments is the best way to follow and if we want to bear fruit, we have to remain credible branches on one true vine. Today we are reminded to love one another fully and freely. Jesus proved the depths of this love by laying down his life so that we might live. As human beings we have no greater friend than Jesus. His personal choice and abiding love transforms slaves into free people and sinners into holy human persons. As long as we remain good branches, all the rest is fully guaranteed.