Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year B
Lectionary #56 - May 10th 2015
The Easter season for those of us who live in the northern hemisphere coincides with springtime, and so we naturally associate Easter with new growth, freshness, and the return to our surroundings of the greenery that we have missed so much over the long winter. Easter is thus a time when we should reflect on the generosity of God who has created all the good things that flower and blossom into maturity in these days. Such generosity is typical of God, who gives regardless of whether we thank him or ignore him. Parents probably understand this well, since often children can take the goods and counsel of their parents without necessarily expressing the thanks that is due, but a parent keeps giving anyway out of love for their children. A mother or father does not show partiality because one child is more grateful than another.
The first reading today teaches us that like a good parent, God shows no partiality: in the Acts of the Apostles we read that "in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him." At first this was hard to grasp for St. Peter, around whom much of the reading revolves, for he rightly had understood that Jesus had come to preach to the people of Israel, and now many Gentiles, or non-Israelites, were entering the Christian fold without having "earned their stripes" by following the Law of Moses.
While staying in the city of Joppa with fellow disciples and planning his missionary efforts, Peter's mind and heart were changed. He was summoned to a nearby city by a Roman centurion named Cornelius, who believed in God but was not Jewish; he was what was known by Jews of that day as a "God-fearer"-a Gentile who was nonetheless well-disposed toward the Jewish people and their beliefs (Acts 10:1-2). Through his interaction with Cornelius Peter came to realize that God welcomed into his peace and extended the gift of salvation to all who approach him in humility, showing no partiality as whether one is "Jewish or Gentile, slave or free, male or female" to borrow St. Paul's words (see Galatians 3:27-28).
Partiality would be foolish in any case, since the salvation God bestows on us-we who have been baptized in the name of his Son and who hold to faith in Him-is a gift we have not earned. This is what we learn in the second reading, from the beautiful first letter of John. There John explains that God chose us and loved us before we ourselves were ever aware of God. In fact John tells us that God loved us so much, even before we came to be, that he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, to redeem us and to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. In John's words: "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
To underline the gratuitous nature of our salvation, Jesus himself reminds us in today's gospel reading, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…" (John 15:16). Conscious of our having been chosen by God, we ought to be as grateful for the gifts of faith and salvation as Cornelius was, and we should imitate God's openness to all who receive him with humility and gratitude. As Peter came around to accepting Cornelius the Gentile, we ought to undergo conversion and accept as redeemed fellow-believers those whom we may not have chosen ourselves, or those from whom we are alienated. In doing so we show the same generosity of Spirit that God showed to us when we were lost, and we extend a welcoming hand that knows no partiality, only the sincere thanksgiving and joyful humility that are the true fruits of this Easter season.