Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

May 5: Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 1, 2024

Dismantle the walls

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

“This is my commandment: Love one another.” One would think that this is an easy commandment to fulfill, but consider who is asking.

Jesus makes this his final request on the night before he died. Notice Jesus calls those sharing his last supper not followers or disciples but friends, signaling a new level of intimacy. Today, these words are addressed to us.

Jesus calls us his friends and asks us to honor his final request. All Jesus wants us to do is to show a little kindness, understanding and compassion toward others.

It should be an easy request to honor, but here is the rub — Jesus assures us that God’s love excludes no one. God’s love embraces all. If God’s does not exclude anyone, how can we make exclusions? But we do.

We build walls and set up barriers that serve to exclude. Among these barriers are race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, social and economic standing, gender identity, sexual orientation. These barriers make Christ’s request that we love one another next to impossible.

Can we dismantle some of these walls? We find it difficult because we believe that doing so runs contrary to our self-interest, or our religious beliefs, our political affiliations, or our economic status. The more walls we build, the more difficult it is to take them down, but they must come down if we are to love as Christ asks us.

The Torah was a barrier that separated Jew and Gentile. That barrier persisted even when some Jews embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It took a lot for Jewish Christians to welcome Gentiles into the community of faith. Today’s first reading tells the story of Peter finding a place for Cornelius, a soldier in the Roman army of occupation, in the Christian community.

Most Judeans could not look upon people like Cornelius except with hatred and disdain. Peter, however, recognized the presence of the Spirit in Cornelius. Peter welcomed him into the Christian community even though the Roman occupation of Judea was a brutal, dehumanizing experience. Peter put that experience aside and baptized Cornelius.

If it were not for the courage of Peter, we might not be Christians today. Still, Peter’s decision to baptize Cornelius did not end the matter of the admittance of Gentiles into the Christian community. Some Jewish Christians expected Gentile converts to accept the burden of the Torah observance. Paul opposed this. The apostles and elders of the church met to settle that matter. They decided that Gentile Christians were not bound to observe the Torah (Acts 15).

Today, there are other barriers preventing us from honoring Jesus’ final request that we love one another. Too many of us are reluctant to share the blessings that God has given our land. We see migrants who are seeking a better life for their children and themselves as threats to our own well-being. Still, if it were not for Americans who admitted our parents and grandparents to this country in the 19th and 20th centuries, who knows where we would be today?

We Christians must do in our day what Peter did in his: ignore the barriers and embrace our sisters and brothers who have come to us for help. We Catholics ought to take the lead in breaking down barriers, not erecting them, since many of our forebears had to overcome obstacles when they came to this country. Pope Francis has said that Christians build bridges, not walls.

Although there ought to be an affective dimension to our love for one another, the centerpiece of that love is what we do for each other. Obeying this command is not easy, but obey it we must, if we wish to be friends of Jesus, who said you are my friends if you do what I command you: Love one another. It is the spirit of Jesus.



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