Happy Easter! Yes, it is still Easter. We are not quite through celebrating the central event of our faith. This weekend the Church celebrates the Sixth Sunday of Easter. Thursday of next week is the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord in most of the world. In several ecclesiastical provinces of North America, however, this celebration is transferred to the following Sunday. In those places, the second reading and the gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be substituted for the second reading and gospel reading of this Sunday. If you live in one of those place, as I do, be flexible. For the purposes of this Scripture Series I will use the readings given for this Sunday (the Sixth Sunday of Easter) this week and those for the Ascension, next week because those are the readings that will be used at St. Raymond Parish.
The first reading is a look at the Spirit’s action in drawing people into the church from the ranks of “outsiders.” The church must follow where the Spirit leads. In the second reading, John indicates that all love originates in God and that the ultimate expression of that love was God sending Jesus. The Gospel tells us that we must remain in Christ’s love and that our status as His friends demands that we act accordingly. We must live out the love of Jesus if we are truly to be friends of God.
First Reading: Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48
25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and, falling at his feet, paid him homage. 26 Peter, however, raised him up, saying, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” [27 While he conversed with him, he went in and found many people gathered together 28 and said to them, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. 29 And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?”
30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, 31 ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”]
34 Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. 35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. [36 You know the word (that) he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, 37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
40 This man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, 41 not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”]
44 While Peter was still speaking these things, the holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, 46 for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
NOTES on First Reading:
* The portions of the text shown above in brackets are not included in the reading. I included them to make the reading easier to follow for those who are unfamiliar with the story.
* 10:25 In the ancient world there was a very thin line between religion and superstition even with a man like Cornelius. In spite of his religious experience and apparent faith in the God of Israel he treats Peter as if he were divine.
* 10:28 This is a reference back to the vision of Acts 10:9-16 which he understands in the light of the angelic visitation recounted in 10:22.
* 10:34-43 Peter’s speech to the household of Cornelius is probably fairly typical of early Christian preaching to Gentiles.
For this speech Luke has taken material that was already part of the Christian tradition and reworked it to some extent. It is full of Luke’s universalist themes and language.
* 10:35 God’s choice of Israel to be the people of God so that He might reveal Himself did not mean that he withheld Divine favor from all the other peoples of the earth. All the peoples of the world are loved by God.
* 10:36-43 This speech has the ring of Luke speaking more directly to his Christian readers rather than Peter speaking to the household of Cornelius, as is indicated by the opening words, “You know.” The speech traces the continuity between the preaching and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and the proclamation of Jesus by the early Christians. The emphasis on this divinely ordained continuity (Acts 10:41) is meant to assure Luke’s readers of the fidelity of Christian tradition to the words and deeds of Jesus.
* 10:38 The early church saw the ministry of Jesus as an integral part of God’s revelation. For this reason they were interested in conserving the historical substance of the ministry of Jesus. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit this tradition lead to the writing and preservation of the four gospels. The passion and urgency in the tone of the remaining verses (up to 44) of this speech clearly show this desire to pass on the teaching of Jesus.
* 10:44 The Gentiles receive the Gift of the Spirit just as the Jewish Christians did. This is but one of the several Pentecost-like events related in Acts. The Spirit’s action is presented here as being unmediated and therefore a complete gift without dependence even on Baptism.
* 10:45 The Spirit’s power was greater than the religious divisions of the day. God still acts without regard to the limitations we attempt to place on Him.
* 10:46 They are described as doing the same thing that the Jewish Christians did when they received the Spirit (Acts 2:4).
* 10:47-48 This is one of the main points of the story. The spirit of God is in charge of the action. The Spirit has moved; the institution (church) can only follow as He has led.
Second Reading: 1 John 4: 7-10
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. 8 Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 4:7-12 These verses present a theological reflection on love as a central attribute in the nature of God and as a primary means of experiencing God’s presence. We show that we are children of God by our love for others. The depths of God’s love is expressed in the free gift of his Son for us, given so that we might share life with God. The love we have for one another must be modeled after this love of God. In this unique Christian love we know God and can “see” the invisible God.
* 4:8 Because love is so central to God’s nature, one who is without love is without God.
* 4:9 God’s love was shown in the gift of Jesus. That love is revealed even now in us by the continuing action of the body of Jesus (the Church).
* 4:10 The depths of God’s love is expressed in the free gift of his Son for us, given so that we might share life with God. Any love we have for one another is but a pale reflection of the love of God for us.
Gospel Reading: John 15: 9-17
9 [Jesus said to His disciples:] “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.
11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16 It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. 17 This I command you: love one another.”
NOTES on Gospel:
* 15:9 This mutual love is grounded in the fact that both Jesus and the disciples keep the commands of love and abide in the love of the Father as expressed in Jesus.
* 15:13 The words “for one’s friends” can also be translated as “those whom one loves.” In John 15:9-13a, the Greek words used for love are related to the Greek word, “agapao.” In John 15:13b-15, the Greek words for love are related to the Greek, “phileo.” Here in John, the two roots seem synonymous and mean “to love.” See also John 21:15-17. Here the word, philos, is used.
Wisdom 7:27 speaks of the “wise” as God’s friends. Here that tradition is expanded to include all those who believe rather than only a select few.
* 15:15 Moses (Deut 34:5), Joshua (Joshua 24:29), and David (Psalm 89:21) were all called “servants” or “slaves of Yahweh.” Abraham (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chron 20:7; see also James 2:23) is the only one who was called a “friend of God.”
* 15:16 In the earlier parts of John’s Gospel, salvation was linked to believing. Here the stress is on “bearing fruit” as the result of having received the new status as “friends.” </font