In the first reading for today, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, tells about an event that has been dubbed "the Pentecost of the Gentiles." This occurred when Peter was summoned to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius, if you remember, was a Roman centurion. Digging a little deeper into memory, you may also remember that Peter was hesitant to go to Cornelius's house because, well, Cornelius was a Gentile. According to the narrative, it was in a dream that God urged Peter not to be hung up on keeping kosher, that whatever food God declared clean was clean.
It's clear that even upon his arrival at the house of Cornelius, Peter was still hesitant. Even though he declared forthrightly something central to Christianity, namely "that God shows no partiality," it was not until Holy Spirit demonstrably "fell upon all who were listening to the word" that Peter saw fit that Cornelius and his Gentile household were baptized.
It has been noted that Christianity is universal or it is nothing at all. This is more important than I am making it sound. I think that the essence, of Christianity's universality is well-captured in today's second reading from 1 John: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God."
Christian universality is rooted in Christians loving as God loves. God's love is made manifest in and through Jesus Christ. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins." What is sin but our refusal to love?
Sadly, I think many Christians are conditioned to start making a long list of rules to be followed whenever we hear the phrase "keep my commandments." What does Jesus command in today's Gospel? "This is my commandment: love one another as I love you." Let's face it, it is a lot easier to keep a list of rules than it is to love others the way Jesus loves us. The logic of love doesn't seem to be intuitive or innate. It cuts against our tendencies and, dare I say, against some of our instincts.
In the twelfth chapter of Romans, Paul instructs the Christians resident in the imperial city, who faced persecution from their community's inception, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all" (Romans 12:17). Further along he concludes with this exhortation: "Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good" (Romans 12:21). If you're anything like me (I hope you're not!), when you are not faced with the reality of having to do this, these words are inspiring. On the other hand, when you find yourself in the middle of a situation that tests you in this regard, you quickly realize how hard it is to live this way.
I don't mind divulging that twice this year I have found myself in vexing situations, circumstances that really challenge me to be a Christian, to follow Christ, to adhere to him ("adhere," as the word adhesive shows, means to "stick"), or to give into seeking revenge, giving as good as I get, or even retreating into bitterness and resentment. I also don't mind saying that in both instances it is a struggle. All of this is encapsulated in the Spiritual Work of Mercy that bids us bear wrongs patiently. If these situations don't drive us to our knees in prayer, I don't know what will.
As the late Rich Mullins sang: "It's hard to be like Jesus." What else can Jesus mean when he bids his disciples "Remain in my love."
One of the petitions found among the Intercessions for Morning Prayer today is this:
You have given faith to save us,Our faith bids us to trust the Lord and to learn through sometimes difficult, perhaps even excruciating, experience that living in this way is what completes our joy.
-may we live today by the faith of our baptism