Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Powerful Promises and Creative Challenges
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May 9th, 2021: The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
1 John 4:7-10
John 15: 9-17
Reflection by David Jackson
Today’s gospel recalls Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Combined with the fact that Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States, this recalls my trips to Peru, where I encountered many women shepherds. This reminds me of the song by Bob Dufford (with slight alterations), "Like a Shepherd she feeds her flock and gathers the lambs in her arms, holding them carefully close to her heart, leading them home." Today's readings remind us that we are more than friends of Jesus, we are siblings. Appropriately, this core truth of revelation was first revealed to (and shepherded by) a woman. (See John 20:11-18).
In addition to these connections to Mother’s Day, today’s scriptures offer powerful promises and creative challenges.
In the Gospel:
As the Abba God loves me, so I also love you...I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.
I have called you friends. ...whatever you ask Abba God in my name God will give you.
In the second reading:
...love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
In this is love; not that we have loved God, but that God loves us...
In the first reading:
In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable.
The first reading must be heard in its context. Chapter 24 begins with parallel visions. Cornelius (a Gentile) has a vision which tells him to summon “one Simon who is called Peter.” The next day, while at prayer, Peter sees the heavens open and offer a great feast. Peter is told to “slaughter and eat” the animals, but Peter refuses because this would be considered unclean according to the Jewish faith at the time. The voice in the vision replies, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” Peter sees this same vision three times, then meets Cornelius and travels with him.
At this juncture, today’s first reading begins. Peter speaks the words I quoted above, “whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable.” Then wonder to behold, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.” The people of Jewish faith were shocked that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon people not from their tribe. For their part, the Gentiles were speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Peter orders them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Many elements of this story are worth noting. Cornelius, a Gentile, immediately trusts a vision as coming from God, while Peter, a church leader, requires three visions to be convinced that God makes all creation clean. Peter, who denied Jesus three times, whom Jesus questioned three times, also needed three times to trust this vision of God’s all-encompassing love. Perhaps, one cannot get to the wideness of Peter’s vision of God’s love unless they have made a similar journey into repentance and forgiveness.
Also, we must not gloss over the beginning of Peter’s speech. “God shows no partiality. …whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable.” In our time these words take on a powerful new meaning. So many medical people have been "acting uprightly.” So many people working to harvest our food during the pandemic are immigrants. Many are members of religions other than Christianity. Most people in our world are not Christians. We must hear these words as applying to them as well.
In the reading from John’s First Letter, we hear, “Love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” The operative word here is EVERYONE. So many Christians do not have the joy of Jesus in them let alone the complete joy promised in the gospel. How many preachers seem uptight and harangue their congregations? We can learn from seekers of other faiths such as the Dalai Lama, Mohandas Gandhi, and many others how to live in the joy of God’s love!
In today’s gospel, Jesus calls us friends, but ultimately, Jesus calls us more than friends. Jesus calls us family. In my book, Jesus Garden Me, I explore the Resurrection scene in John 20: 11-18 with some help from the book, Jesus Our Brother, by Wilfrid J. Harrington, OP. Here, the author notes that until this passage, “Jesus alone” was God’s child. But at this point, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene that God is Abba to all of us! Further, Jesus tells Mary to share that message with the disciples. It is not that Jesus simply likes us (we are friends), but instead that we share the unbreakable bonds of family. Somehow it is not a surprise that Jesus first shares “this astounding truth” with a woman.
Hopefully we won’t be among those who get to heaven and are startled to find out “the astounding truth” that God’s family is very large indeed!
As a Catholic priest for 48 years David Jackson preached on most Sundays. Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark's Story by Ched Myers has been his go to for Cycle B, Mark. His love of Scripture led him to pursue an M.A. from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For the past 16 years, he has sent out homily reflections to friends. For the last two years these reflections have also been available on Roman Catholic Women Priests Canada's bimonthly newsletter. Since he discovered Catholic Women Preach, that web site is part of his weekly preparation. At 82 years of age, he has been married for the last ten years to the love of his life, Alva. In March he published his first book, Jesus Gardens Me, available on Amazon.