Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday word, 17 May 2009

Easter Sunday6 (17 May 2009)
Ac 10.25-26,34-35,44-48; Ps 98; 1Jn 4.11-16; Jn 17. 11b-19
[Because Ascension is celebrated on Sunday, the 2d reading and gospel may be taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter]

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Universal Not Ethnic

We may be tempted in the Easter season to think danger had passed for the church with the resurrection of Jesus. God had validated the ministry, the life and dying of Jesus by raising him from death. Yet dangers faced the early disciples in many forms. However, the most dangerous step did not come from outside the church but from within: reaching out to those who were not Jews to include them in the promises God made first to Abraham.

To make the move from an ethnic religion to a universal one--from Judaism to Christianity--dripped with fear, anxiety, contention and debate among the apostles. The Acts of the Apostles presented the promises God made first to Abraham as the gift of Holy Spirit. A key lesson was that no one--not even an apostle--can domesticate the Spirit of God. It began with a vision while Peter was praying.

Our first reading brought us onto the scene after Peter had had a vision/1/ of various foods, many of which were not kosher. When he refused to eat, a voice in his vision bade him to eat, which perplexed him greatly. His vision threatened his identity as a Jew and all the symbolism of Judaism. It was no hunger-induced vision as his next encounter proved: Cornelius and his household were similar to the non-kosher foods of his vision: Jews didn’t mix with gentiles./2/ Yet what did Peter’s vision mean?

Peter began to understand that risen Jesus’ command to him and the apostles, to preach the forgiveness of sins in [Jesus’] name to all the nations/3/ did not mean within boundaries but to include all peoples; in other words, to be a universal gospel not an ethnic one. In the house of Cornelius, Peter put it this way: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to [God].” That was astonishing for Peter, a Jew, to say when we recall that only the Jews awaited a messiah.

Peter was grasping as he spoke that to which his vision had called and prepared him. How would it unfold? As Peter grasped and as he spoke, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. ...astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also [before baptism!], caused Peter to call out in awe, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have!”

Gentiles and Jewish-Christians shared the gift of God’s Spirit! The implications of living that shared gift the early church would discover and wrangle over at all levels. The bond of God’s Spirit, not a bond of human making, not only united all who believed in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. It challenged, and it continues to challenge believers to accept who God accepts and to do so wholeheartedly. God abides in us to help us accept that challenge.

God abides in us by God’s Spirit. We are to foster unbroken fellowship with one another. That is how we abide in God and with each other. We are able to do this by the gift of God’s Spirit, which makes Christian love much more than a feeling and a human power. Not only with one another: we are to extend ourselves so that others may respond to God who is impartial, universal and who desires God’s people to grow more like Jesus, who revealed God’s love in flesh and blood. Abiding in divine love changes how we act, live and choose. We may perceive that change as most dangerous to ourselves and difficult to undertake. That’s why Jesus gave us his Spirit.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, continue to feel recreated by our triune God. Ask Peter and Cornelius, who both desired to live as friends of Jesus and for Jesus to consecrate their lives, to present you to Jesus. Converse with Jesus, asking him to strengthen your relationship with Jesus and to encourage you to let go of what hinders your relationship with Jesus. Ask for the grace to act, live and choose in ways which harmonize with Jesus’ gospel. Close your prayer by saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray it we re-consecrate ourselves to Jesus, and Jesus consecrates us in the truth of his risen life as apostles to our world.

1. The Greek word in Acts 10.10 ekstasis, from which we get our word ecstatic. Its root meaning is a change of state, here in a way of approaching the world with one’s mind that is not the usual way. The verse makes clear that Peter was not ecstatic as the word may suggest to us; instead he was hungry and wished to eat, and he was at prayer even as the meal was being prepared.
2. See Acts 10.19. The entire chapter of simultaneous visions and then Holy Spirit falling on Cornelius and his household before they were baptized is a splendid narrative depicting discernment.
3. Luke 24.47.
Wiki-image of the baptism of Cornelius is in the public domain. Wiki-image--photograph by Giovanni Dall'Orto--of Jesus teaching his apostles is in the public domain.

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