May. 25, 2019

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2019

Let us not place unnecessary burdens upon them.

Readings: 1st- Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; 2nd- Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23; Gospel- Jn. 14:23-29

We may want to ask what kind of peace does the world give. The world gives material peace, compromised peace. The world’s peace is based on worldly pleasures.  

The first reading reports, “there arose no little dissension and debate” about the issue of circumcision for the Gentile converts. Some Jews were pressing to have them circumcised into the Mosaic practice before they would be counted among those to be saved. This created huge tension among the disciples. They summoned the Jerusalem council to look at the matter. Paul, Barnabas, and others insist on giving these Gentiles access to the gospel unconditionally. They related their missionary experiences to the other disciples. James, the leader of the Jerusalem church at the time, referred the apostles to the words of the scripture. Those positive words formed the judgment of the Council regarding the Gentile converts as the disciples maintained, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage” (Acts 15:28-29). Here, we must pay attention to the mention of the Holy Spirit in the decision taken by the apostles. The Gentiles only need to keep God’s commandment and do what is spiritually right. 

Jesus says in the gospel, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). Loving God and keeping his word therefore become the condition for experiencing God’s love in return. Christ says, “we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” “We,’ here, refers to the presence of the Trinity. Whoever loves Jesus keeps God’s word. The person is not driven by unnecessary legalistic demands that sometimes create racial and ethnic dissensions. Whoever does not love God is not directed by God’s word. Such a person has no interest in the gospel. 

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s special gift to the disciples. He connects us to the peace of Christ by teaching and coaching us in the ways of God’s love. The peace of Christ is a lasting peace; it remains with his followers irrespective challenges and conflicts. Christ’s peace surpasses all human obstacles, failures, persecution, rejection, fear, and death. From the statement of the Jerusalem council in the first reading, we notice that those who pushed for the circumcision of the Gentile converts failed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. The disciples maintained, “Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24). To “disturb your peace of mind” means to disturb the peace that comes from Christ gives. Circumcision was the source of the peace for the Jewish society of the time. It is based on legalistic and societal demands. It is based on human connections. Some Jews including some disciples wanted the Gentiles to be like them before being like Christ. Some of us behave  like that in today’s world.

Some of us feel that others must be like them because they consider themselves owners of the United States. Some of us feel reluctant about accepting others in their midst. We want Spanish people to speak English before they would become Christians/Catholic. We want immigrants and strangers to be like us, else they leave. I’ve heard people ask, “why should they not be like me if they want to stay in America? “Why should we learn this language or that?” “In the church, why don’t they speak English? Why should we have Mass in other language other than English?” If you think that way, don’t you think you’re placing unnecessary burdens upon strangers and immigrants? Don’t you think you’re multiplying laws by wanting others to be just like you? 

Let me tell you this, you won’t understand the plight of strangers until you travel to other people’s lands and become a stranger.  I use myself as an example. At this point, I am processing my green card which is what I need to become an immigrant. I came into the U.S. very legally, sure you know that. And I am productive here. I am contributing to the society in a spiritually and pastorally meaningful way. While this process is on, I was given a parole card which is my work authorization and temporary status identity. As I was returning from Nigeria on May 11th, I came in through Atlanta. I was pulled aside at the immigration entry point. The treatment was different because I had only the parole card. The immigration officer took me to a different section and sat me down on a long bench. He ran multiple background checks on me. After that, he stamped on my passport, “Paroled till 2020.” 

Now, my driver’s license will expire on July 28, 2019. Last week, I received the notice to renew my license, so on Thursday, I went to MVA to renew my license. It was different. They ran several checks and were not able to pull up my record. Again, it was different. The white lady behind me felt so sorry for me because she noticed how I was pulled back and forth one line to another. The MVA licensing manager called the department of Homeland Services and at the end, they told me that my license could only be extended till November 2019. That means, I might be without driver’s license by November if my green card isn’t out. When you here that someone is out of status, you might not know the various reasons if you’re not a stranger/immigrant. Think about the inconveniences of going back to MVA by November. Think about the money I will spend in renewing my license almost after every five months. But one thing is certain, have the peace of Christ in my heart. I cannot run out of the status which God has given me as a Christian. I’m not referring to those who are coming into the U.S. illegally because that’s different. 

We should also know that there are people like me who are Spanish, Asian, strangers from all over the world. Such persons might have come in legally but not finding things easy because of immigration bottlenecks. They’re different from those who are entering illegally but things have become so tough for them. Their fault is that they are strangers and immigrants. We shouldn’t make things difficult for such people in the faith as well. When we come into the church and still discriminate, we make things worse in the midst of legalistic challenges. We act like these Jews who seeking to have the Gentiles circumcised. 

We all need the peace of Christ. It is peace that promotes love for one another. It is peace that comes from the knowledge of the Gospel. It is peace which derives from the Holy Spirit. It is peace that says, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matt. 25:34-36).