Father Donald Senior, CP

May 9: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Crossing boundaries

Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; 1 Jn 4:7-10; Jn 15:9-17

Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” first published in 1914, has been called one of the most analyzed poems in the modern era.

The poem tells of two New England farmers who set out at the beginning of spring to mend the stone wall separating their properties. As they move along, each staying on his side of the wall and lifting fallen stones back into place, one of them, the narrator, reflects on the meaning of a wall.

The narrator gently calls into question the need for the wall — “Something there is that doesn’t like a wall” — while his neighbor cites an axiom he learned from his father: “Good fences make good neighbors.”

The narrator concedes there can be a good cause for a wall, to keep cows from straying, for example. But what about the need for a wall when on one side is an orchard and on the other pine trees? “My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.”

The issue of crossing boundaries is a hot political topic in our country today, and in many countries worldwide. The United Nations estimates that there are currently 26 million refuges in the world fleeing their homelands to seek safety on the other side of boundaries. 

The readings for this Sunday remind us that crossing boundaries is also an urgent topic in the Bible. The liturgies continue to draw on passages from the Acts of the Apostles. 

This Sunday we hear about one of the most consequential events of the early church. Peter is inspired by a vision from God to travel to Caesarea Maritima, at that time the seat of Roman power in Israel. Peter, a devout Jew but also a follower of Jesus, finds himself in the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who is seeking baptism. In the unfolding story of Acts, this is the first formal encounter of a Jewish Christian with a Gentile, a Roman officer at that. A substantial cultural and religious boundary is about to be crossed in the name of the Gospel.

The lectionary spares us the long speech that Peter gives on this occasion and comes right to the point. The earnest request of Cornelius to be baptized draws from Peter a key confession: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” The boundary crossed, Peter, the leader of the apostles, accepts Cornelius and his household into the Christian community.

Much of the New Testament, in fact, deals with the dawning realization of devout Jewish Christians that Gentiles, too, were called to follow Jesus. It was not easy to negotiate these ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries. 

Already the Old Testament Scriptures were aware that God was the God of all peoples. That is the message of today’s psalm response: “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”

The ultimate reason for God’s wide embrace is revealed in the two selections from John’s writings that make up the second reading and the Gospel. The First Letter of John is staggering in its beauty: “In this is love; not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”  

The Gospel taken from the last discourse of Jesus with his disciples is a key passage: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In his most recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis challenges those who despise or ignore the plight of refugees: “For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.”

As Robert Frost noted in his poem, there are good reasons for walls and boundaries, but never at the expense of human life.



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