Sixth Sunday of Easter
Six weeks into our Easter rejoicing, the Church gives us readings today that start preparing us for a return to ordinary life. The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel both dwell on proper daily behavior for followers of Jesus, while the reading from Revelation reminds us why we bother with laws at all. In Acts, leaders of the church meet to discuss which essential elements of the Mosaic Law converts must obey if they wish to be disciples of Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel reflects back to the Last Supper discourse when Jesus himself emphasizes the importance of obeying God’s commandments. Observing God’s law, says Jesus, shows a desire to be intimate with the Lord. We follow rules not for their own sake, but to love God and neighbor better. This more excellent love brings us closer to Revelation’s vision of paradise, gleaming with “the splendor of God.”
The independent streak in every human heart can resent rules and regulations. We often rebel against the idea of blindly following rules we did not create for ourselves. We have inherited this willfulness from Adam and Eve, who could not resist eating from the one tree God strictly outlawed in the Garden of Eden. Jesus, fully human and fully divine, personally understands our desire to do things ourselves. In his own garden, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus transformed human history. Instead of following his own inclinations, Jesus offered his decision-making, his free will, his very life, to God. As the Gospel of Luke tells us, Jesus “was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Observing God’s law is not easy, not even for the Son of God. But Jesus promises that keeping God’s words will bring us peace. Jesus’ submission led to resurrection; our obedience will calm our hearts, allowing God to dwell deep within.
IT TAKES A COUNCIL
Even if we restrain our willfulness and cultivate the desire to obey God’s commandments, we still face the very real difficulty of discerning exactly what it is God seems to want from us. The early church agonized over this in the first years after Jesus’ ascension. Many people of good will, all trying to obey God, came to drastically different conclusions about how to imitate Jesus. Our reading from Acts today explains “there arose no little dissension” among the new believers. So the church leaders gathered together to pray and discuss—as we still do today. That first church council, the Council of Jerusalem, settled a question not explicitly addressed by Jesus while on earth. Christians today have inherited that sublime legacy of gathering in discernment. We praise God for the gift of that first of many councils, and strive to approach discernment as carefully in our own lives.
Today’s Readings: Acts 15:1–2, 22–29; Ps 67:2–3, 5, 6, 8; Rev 21:10–14, 22–23; Jn 14:23–29