“So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying, ‘You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.’”
ACTS 11: 1-18
With so many new readers over the last year, I present a oldie but a goody from the past…
Such a powerful lesson in today’s first reading. Perhaps one of the earliest Christian understandings of the concept of tolerance – and evangelizing with love and respect.
The apostles lived in a world where the kingdom of God was easy to understand. It was open to God’s chosen people. Period. Anyone outside the faith – the uncircumsized – well, there were rules to abide. Rules about where to walk, who to speak to, who to touch. In a nutshell, anyone who was “unclean” was also “off limits.”
People were deemed unclean and unworthy, simply because of their race, their nationality, their visible diseases, their handicap … so many things could keep you out of the kingdom.
And then along comes Jesus and his radical ways – talking to the woman at the well, dining with the tax collectors, saving a prostitute from being stoned to death.
Jesus constantly challenged his followers by upending the notion that God could not be a part of someone’s life based on the “blemishes” that others see.
Instead, when the time was right, he sent his apostles all over the world to preach the “good news” … including the Gentiles. Today’s first reading is a look at how Peter responded to the criticism he received for doing the work of Christ.
Thanks goodness we don’t pre-judge people these days based on the color of their skin, the nation in which they reside or the faith of their fathers or of their choosing.
We have all accepted God into our hearts and we no longer see each other as walking labels, but as fellow lights of Christ, right?
Well, based on my Facebook feed alone, perhaps we need to work on that.
Maybe we spend our time picking and choosing our friends based on our image of them being a “good, religious person” who says the right things, does the right things and has surely been blessed by God. (After all, look at how successful they are!).
Those who do not fall into that category? They get ignored, skipped over or shunned.
Jesus might have urged you to welcome them into your home, eat with them, get to know them and then – first by example and then with words – share the good news of salvation. Such daring “non-judgmentalism” can be dangerous. It can leave you open to criticism. But as one famous meditation oft repeats, “Do it anyway.”
In this Easter season, we are reading a lot of the Acts of the Apostles and we are learning how they had to overcome many obstacles in order to preach the Gospel to an “unclean” world that was ripe for evangelization.
The world has not changed. Evangelization is still needed.
In a violent world filled with hatred, fear, suspicion and paranoia … isn’t it time to respond with love to those who need it most?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that … “he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”
How can one hear his voice today if so many are unwilling to speak to them? Are we willing to overcome our fears and reach out with love to every soul created by God?
All this makes me think of Thomas Merton, the great spiritual writer and Trappist monk, who wrote this once after an experience in downtown Lousiville …
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”
Look out your window. Take a walk. Speak to your neighbor.
We all live at Fourth and Walnut.