Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 13 May 2012
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Psalm 98:1-4; 1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17
The readings from the epistle and letters of John over the last few weeks have been so saturated with the idea of ‘love’ that I have chosen to approach today’s readings through that lens. When I hear the word ‘love’ I think I know what it means. But perhaps its very familiarity blinds me to its depths. It is, according to Jesus, the sine qua non of the Christ-follower, and John names it as the essence of the divine.
Love is easy to relate to when it is the bond between those with whom we identify. It is the glue that binds a community or a family together. But the Holy Spirit made clear to the early church that the attractive force of love breaks boundaries and unites ‘them’ and ‘us’ into a larger more inclusive community. Cornelius was the first non-Jew with whom any of the apostles shared the Good News of Jesus Christ. It took a thrice-repeated vision from God to prepare Peter to even accept the invitation to go to this outsider’s home. Once there he tells Cornelius and his household of the wonderful things that God is doing for God’s people through Jesus. No doubt Peter would previously have read today’s psalm as a celebration of God’s salvation of God’s own people which the nations of the earth were called to witness to. So great is God’s work that the whole earth can only stand in awe. But there is a difference between observing and participating. It became clear that the invitation to the nations is not only to witness and be astounded by God’s salvation, but to be active recipients of it. As Peter takes the first baby steps in realising that God’s love encompasses all people, the Holy Spirit breaks in and demonstrates irrefutably that these Gentiles too have been swept up by God’s love into the community of God’s people. This attractive, binding force of love that makes a more inclusive community is not a soft and sentimental feeling. It is a disruptive force that shakes people’s sense of identity and can make things very uncomfortable. The inclusion of these and other Gentiles in the new Jesus movement made life complicated. What was their relationship to be to the requirements of the Jewish law that the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus simply took for granted? That question rubbed and rattled the new community quite considerably.
God’s love is shown in God’s reaching out to meet us at our point of deepest need. Love initiates. It sees the need and responds without first waiting for the request. Our deepest need is to be forgiven, to be accepted in the core of our being, to be seen and affirmed, to be made fully alive, to be related again to our divine source and to the whole of which we are a part. God’s movement toward us in Christ does all this. And it isn’t something that we have to earn – it is freely given. It is the great force of attraction that pulls us toward God, so that we may be said to be born of God and to know God. Love isn’t in the first place something that we do – it is a graced space out of which we are able to respond to others because we have received divine love. It seems to me that the work that needs to be done with respect to love is to first of all open ourselves to receive it, and then to allow it to flow through us to others. For those who are grounded in and saturated by love, loving others is as natural as breathing. And what does this ‘loving others’ look like? If it looks Christlike, then it moves beyond itself to the place of need; it gives without strings attached; it gives of its very self; it meets the genuine need. We know that it can be rejected, but where it is received, it awakens the best in the other. Love begets love.