Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts of the Apostles 10: 44-48; Psalm 98; I John 5: 1-6; John 15: 9-17

In the majestic narrative of Luke-Acts, the appearance of the Holy Spirit always marks a pivotal turn in the story. Telling the story of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus spreads to non-Jews in large numbers through the preaching of Peter and "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard." The validity of their conversion and inclusion in the community of first believers through baptism cannot be denied, Peter insists.

The psalmist honors God's "kindness and faithfulness to the house of Israel," but also invites "all the earth" to celebrate God's "great victory [over chaos?] and God's bounty/generosity/Gift.

"Victory" over personal and community anxieties comes "through faith that Jesus is the Christ" and by following his "commands," the author of this first letter attributed to John explains. And his commands are fulfilled in love of others by those who have already discovered they are loved by God.

Jesus equates his love of us with the Father's love of him! And, Jesus' love of us is sustained/nurtured/flourishes when we keep his commandment, just as he obeyed the Father. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved you." The result for us is "joy" and camaraderie. But notice this: this whole sequence is set in motion by a singular, out-of-the-blue initiative -- "You did not choose me, but I chose you!" Now, we are to be the "fruit" of God's initiative through love of others.

These readings push in opposite directions-- inclusive and exclusive, or general and personal.

Luke says that while Peter was still conveying the good news about Jesus, "the Holy Spirit fell upon all...." The psalmist acknowledges God's original and special relationship with the house of Israel, but then invites every citizen of every nation to participate in recognizing and then praising God as the source of our "gifted" status. From these readings, we are reminded that God's gifts are expansive, indeed inclusive of every person who exists or has existed! But in John's gospel, Jesus makes a singular statement: "You did not choose me, I chose you." God's gifts are given to any and all, but some make the decision to receive them as a personal call.

The writings of Jean-Louis Chretien have been described as a unique amalgamation of philosophy, theology and poetry. In
The Call and The Response, he explore the human experience of "call." He begins with the general experience and proceeds to biblical descriptions. "When we start to answer the call," Chretien writes, "we have already answered; when we embrace it as a call, it has already embraced us." (p.12) One consequence of accepting the call is to be destabilized and then transformed. "In calling me, the call does not leave me intact: it surges only by opening a space in me to be heard, and therefore by shattering something of what I was before I felt myself to be called." (p.48) How do we experience this call? Chretien cites Hugh of St. Victor. "God's Word appeared visibly to us once wrapped in human form, and now each day the very same word comes to us under the cover of a human voice." [ De verbo Die, I.2, trans. R. Baron, Paris, 1969 61-63] And then he continues in his own voice, "The call is direct, since it reaches me without substitute, yet it is not immediate, since it reaches me always through and by means of the world, by means of the events that unfold and the voice of other human beings." (Ibid) Once one accepts himself as one who is chosen/called by God, it results in certain actions, "Every instant elects whoever listens in it to the invitation extended to him by God. Nor is it simply a matter of accepting, as in a sort of amor fati. To sanctify the divine name is to struggle against letting it be profaned: more often than not, it is addressed to us under the opposite appearance.... When a man is victimized and humiliated, the divine name of glory is humiliated, and to assist that man back up is to sanctify this same name. The injustice that we witness profanes the divine name of justice, and to fight against injustice is to hear the voice of the Word aggrieved in the event. To answer the voice of events is to speak, but also to act, by letting ourselves be transformed by it." (p.69)

Luke tells us that those who heard Peter's words on one particular occasion were visited by the Holy Spirit and miraculously began to speak, becoming witnesses themselves to God's good news for all; Peter's words became their words, his story became theor story. John's gospel tells us Jesus says to anyone who will listen, "You did not choose me, I chose you." And those who accept this call, who accept that they have indeed been "chosen" before they even realized it, are transformed and "bear fruit" unique to the vine that produced the "branches," which is "to fight against injustice," "to assist the man back up" who has been "victimized and humiliated."

What we have just been told should not only initiate a new conversation about (God's) justice in which we become articulate participants, but also initiate a chain-reaction of acts of justice.