Sunday Scripture Readings

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER,

MAY 25

Acts 10:25-26; 34-35; 44-48; Psalm 98;

1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

OUR GOOD NEWS: Peter witnessed and participated in an unexpected dramatic change in the Church. In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke devoted a lengthy chapter to Cornelius, of which today's first reading is a synopsis. He followed with further allusions, including a full repetition when Peter reported to the Jerusalem mother Church (Acts 11:1-18). This event served as precedent in Peter's decisive speech at the apostolic council (Acts 15:8-9). Cornelius' conversion thus ranks with Paul's, likewise described in three places (Acts 9, 22 and 26). Selections from this chapter are read yearly at the Baptism of the Lord as well as at Easter. Such attention reflects Cornelius' role in the Luke-Acts schema as first non-Jew baptized and gifted with the Holy Spirit. The worldwide Gentile mission began with this devout (retired?) "centurion," a company commander in the Roman army of occupation. Lacking explicit guidance from Jesus' remembered teaching and example, the Spirit-guided Church nevertheless passed from exclusively Jewish to dominantly Gentile and western European, a second, though still incomplete stage, toward genuine universality. Peter's conclusion was thus truly revolutionary. Any and every pagan could be "God-fearing" and "practice righteousness," thus becoming fully "acceptable" to God without circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law! Peter came to this truth slowly and painfully - "I begin to see how true it is" - even though personally prepared by God in vision (standard Old Testament vehicle for revelation). Divine approval followed immediately and dramatically with the "Gentile Pentecost." Cornelius had received Peter with deference due a prophet-messenger of God. Peter's refusal of marks of respect reflected the new situation, when Jewish and Gentile Christians enjoy equality before God. This story makes several points of lasting significance. Authentic change, at times disturbing, must be expected as part of the Church's ongoing mission. Second, new directions result ultimately from the Holy Spirit's guidance rather than from merely human decisions. Finally, ecclesiastical leadership has the right and obligation to teach and carry out divinely willed new directions. Today's first reading thus teaches the sometimes painful call to ongoing growth and change under the Spirit's guidance and with approval of leaders. Moreover, the Church's destiny is to become truly universal, where every sort of person is evangelized. Today's psalm selection directs attention toward God's marvelous kindness in offering salvation to the whole world. Peter's amazement reflected in our first reading indicates how startling this new development was, however foreshadowed in the Old Testament. God's latest among His "wondrous deeds" transcends the vocabulary of existing hymns, requiring "a new song" to acclaim a "deed" exclusively His who alone enjoys such power - "His right hand," "His holy arm." In the final stanza, the whole world joins Jews, God's original Chosen People, in joyfully recognizing and submitting to His universal authority. Worldwide blessing deserves worldwide gratitude, praise and commitment, suitably expressed in worldwide "song." We praise our Savior-God who refuses to play favorites and to show partiality, committing Himself to the awesome task of saving every person in every conceivable situation.

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