Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4: 7-10; John 15: 9-17
The Lord had revealed to the nations his saving power…
In talking to some friends about all that has gone on in Baltimore the past couple weeks, I mentioned the observation that what I found most sad, beyond all that we had transpired, was the number of people that were clamoring for power, politically, religiously, and socially. There are the people that have to put others down to bring themselves up, there are those that feel their going to swoop in and save the day, and certainly those that take advantage of people in moments of vulnerability. Now I’ve said this before, that, if you have go out looking for it or taking it from others, then you really haven’t found true power; as a matter of fact, it is more an abuse of power than anything and certainly not the power that Jesus speaks of and commands today in loving one another. The saving power of God is revealed in Christ and as John tells us in the second reading, is Love.
In the midst of the social, political, and religious context of Jesus’ time it wasn’t much different. It’s a tension that has always existed and will always exist as long as humans are around, of this power of love that Jesus speaks of and the perceived power that comes from roles, vocation, class, status, and place in society. It’s not to say that some of it isn’t necessary but it becomes an issue when our identity is wrapped up in the role and lose sight of the larger picture and our larger connection with humanity, in Christ and love. We live in a time when the positions and roles still have more credence than love. What hasn’t helped is that we’ve sentimentalized the message of Jesus and watered it down from the radical call that he was commanding of his disciples and for each of us. Ultimately it’s what will cost him his life because the power he gives and is not only casts out sin but at the same time sheds light on the shadow of these systems in which he lived and the systems that we live and participate and the brokenness and dysfunction that follows. It’s not that he was trying to shame anyone, put people down, show himself as better, or anything like that, but rather loved and shed light on the blind spots in order to grow and heal them.
He shows it himself in this image, this social structure, that he presents of slave and master in today’s gospel, where for Jesus, loving means meeting the disciples where they’re at, as friends. Although they may have had perceptions of him being something that he was not or saw him as superior to themselves, such as slave and master, he breaks down even that social structure. When we live in that mindset, we lose sight of who and whose we are and the humanity that we share and it makes love nearly impossible for our lives. It becomes about the perceived power that we hold over others, which of course, is not love at all; it’s for our own agenda and wants. That’s not to say that we don’t love in a way that really isn’t love. We are all taught along the way what we think is love but really often is not; but God wants to take us to a deeper place, to that place of love through love and in love. Love meets us where we are. Love heals. Love reconciles. Love sheds light and frees us. Love because the eternal bond that makes us one. If what we do, how we think, or whatever leads to division and thinking that one is better than the other, we’re pretty much guaranteed it’s not love.
Peter runs into that same tension with Cornelius in today’ first reading from Acts. We hear as Peter approaches that Cornelius falls at his feet in adoration and Peter quickly cuts him off and reminds him that he too is a human being. Now he was different when he arrives, on the surface, but Peter had found that true power within, the divine, and so he somewhat glows when he shows up today. How different he is, though, from the Gospels, when he anticipated a “better than” approach to now even breaking down the social structures between Jew and Gentile, those baptized and those not. Peter has found his deepest identity and it has nothing to do with what he does, but rather who he is, only through love and now he can do nothing but give it away and then through that breaks down the barriers and walls and begins to lead people to a deeper place beyond role and status and structure to a place of love.
It’s radical what the disciples were called to and what Jesus modeled to them and for us. It went against everything that the social, political, and religious structures wanted and threatened them, but most importantly, because it revealed their own vulnerability and their own limitation and the shallowness of what they thought was power; the power of this love leads not only to his death but to the risen life. That’s what none of them ever could have anticipated! Jesus challenges us and leads us to that deeper place of conversion in our lives. Where have we tried to put ourselves above others, forgetting our own identity? Where have we stepped on others and taken advantage of others to get what we want rather than living and showing love?
The gospel demands much of us today because it demands us to change our lives and the way we see others and to meet where we’d want to be met, right where we are. It challenges us to question our motivations in life. It challenges us to evaluate the systems that we participate in and how we to need love to cast light upon us so we can grow and to, like Peter, become the saving power to others, to become love. It’s the only way we can love, where there is no longer slave and master, but friends. This I command each of you, he tells us, love one another. Not in a sentimental kind of way, but rather, move below the surface and allow love to shed light on our own hurt and what we hold onto so that we may become love in order to live the command of loving one another.