Gentiles and greater love.

Signpost for 10 May 2015, Sixth Sunday of Easter: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98: 1; John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

These Acts readings! All these exciting stories of the very early Church – miracles, healings, an amazing growth in numbers, and occasionally an account of dealing with practicalities and difficulties of the kind we still experience today. But the lectionary is selective in what it gives us. I suppose there is not time in your average Sunday morning service to read the whole of chapter 10, but the import of our prescribed five verses is much more forceful when put in context. Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, a Gentile (one of the good ones though) has a vision of an angel and there follows a rattling good yarn of his conversion and baptism and that of his household. The story ends with today’s short reading in which Peter and the circumcised believers are astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit is poured out “even on Gentiles”.
I looked into the website suggested by Paul (White) last week but reverted to my own favourite, Textweek.com, and found that:

“The decision to admit Gentiles into the community of faith without the benefit of circumcision will have earth-shattering consequences in the subsequent history of the Christian church. Yet that far-reaching decision ‘is not made all at once. It is not made by the entire church from the beginning. It is not made on the basis of a priori principles and practices. Even the Scripture and the words of Jesus are reread. The decision, rather, is the result of a long process, involving many believers in many places, and the decisions of many local communities.’ It is also, we might add, the result of a long and fruitful process of ‘tuning the faith,’ which allowed those early Christian communities to hear God’s voice and do God’s will.” Matson, David Lertis and Warren S. Brown, “Turning the Faith: The Cornelius Story in Resonance Perspective,” Perspectives in Religious Studies, 2006.

I wish I could put it like that.

And as for the Gospel reading – probably the most treasured part of Jesus’ farewell discourse – “This is my commandment, that you 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.” That second sentence was revered throughout all Australasia recently on Anzac Day. Possibly many who heard it and were moved by it did not even recognise where it came from. I can add nothing to what all Signpost readers know and understand already. But just one thought – let’s not look at it literally for a moment and pay a silent tribute to those many people who do not actually die, but who lay down their lives, their hopes, dreams, and worldly aspirations for the sake of elderly parents, handicapped children, unsatisfactory husbands or wives, or indeed for the poor, the hungry, the sick and the prisoners generally. Their sacrifice surely counts as Greater Love.

Sheila

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