Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C (May 1)**
(**2nd Reading and Gospel are taken from the 7th Sunday of Easter)
The early church had its problems much as we do today. The biggest problem stemmed from the admission of the Gentile community. Since Jesus was a Jew and almost all of the early followers, disciples and apostles were Jewish and followed all the Jewish laws and regulations while still believing in Jesus the Messiah, it stood to reason that they would expect everyone to be like them. To be a follower of Jesus would mean that you would also follow the laws and practices of the Jewish faith.
Paul did not see it that way and when Paul went out converting Gentile communities to the Christian faith, he did not have them follow the prescripts of the Jewish law which would involve circumcision, apparel, practices, purity regulations in food and cleanliness, and so on.
Suddenly, missionaries from Judea – Jewish Christians – were visiting and teaching among the new converts and what they were preaching was what they believed to be true – that to be a Christian you also had to follow the law of Moses and the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
According to our first reading today, Paul had quite a debate and argument with them but neither side would give in. It was decided that Paul and Barnabas would go themselves to Jerusalem and settle the problem once and for all. This was probably the first Council of the Church and it did indeed come to a compromise.
The Gentile converts would not have to follow all the Jewish Laws and customs with just a very few exceptions – they were not allowed to eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods, they could not eat blood or strangled animals, and they were to refrain from fornication. They did not have to be circumcised or follow any other of the purity laws than those.
We settle debates much in the same way in the church today, and that is why councils like Vatican 2 were and are so important. It is the spirit working through the whole church as one that is able to influence things or change things and create oneness in the church. In our little community, it is working together to solve problems that makes us one.
That oneness is also the subject of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today. Jesus prays in the reading today that all may be one – the original followers and those who will come after. The deep theological prayer here is spelled out with logic. Since the Father and the Son are one, the Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father. Jesus prays that we can also be one with the Father and Son – in other words, that we be of one mind with them, that we share in their glory and in their love.
That is not always the case, unfortunately. There have been great divisions in the church, many of them based on theological issues that one side or the other could not compromise on. We see it in play today in the Roman church where there is a division on whether or not divorced Catholics can be forgiven and go to Communion, whether or not there can be birth control, whether or not there can ever be women priests. These are divisive issues that are not easily solved or compromised though attempts are being made to bring church members together to look at them. What this has often led to is divisions in the church. While all still call themselves Christian, some groups have moved further away than others.
Jesus’ prayer continues, however, with the wish that everyone could love in the same manner as the Father and the Son love each other. The decisive factor in Christianity, that is, following the way of Jesus, is love. At the end of time, at our deaths, love is going to be the deciding factor. It is God’s love that gives us grace, that forgives us, that opens his kingdom to us. Can we have the same sort of love in our lives that is given freely like grace, that forgives as God has forgiven us, that shares, just as God is willing to share his kingdom with us for eternity. We know Jesus’ prayer for us from the Gospel today. Are we able to be a part of its fulfillment?
And this leads us to the reading from the Book of Revelation today. Revelation is a strange, difficult book because it is visionary, part dream, part symbol. But this section we read today verifies Jesus prayer in that we are told that Jesus is going to return and will “repay each according to their work.” That work which will be repaid is how much we have loved. Those who have loved and shown their love “will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.”
We are not alone in our quest to love, however. The Father and Jesus have sent the Spirit to us to help us fulfill that goal of love. “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come. And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” In God’s goodness he has shown us the way by sending his Son to us and then the Spirit.
As we end the fifty days of the Easter season today, we need to come to understand that Christianity is not a pile of rules and regulations, although we seem to have a great deal of these. The root of Christianity is love. You will be judged on how well and how much you have loved. I think we can be easily forgiven faults, but the great issue is how much we bear Christ’s love into our world. If we have learned anything from this Easter season, let us know that God raised and glorified his Son to let us know that we can be raised and glorified as well. And Jesus’ prayer today tells us how. Can we begin to measure our days by how much we have loved and shown love? It is a challenge. It is Christianity. It is Jesus’ prayer for us. It is Good News if only we will live it. God bless.
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]