Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 20 and 21, 2017
Throughout his public ministry, Jesus stressed that we must be sharing with others our faith in Jesus’ message. In one of his final acts, Jesus told us exactly how we are to do it – by washing one another’s feet. The Church calls Jesus’ act of washing the feet of his disciples the Mandatum; the mandate of service for others. I often tell my students that Christianity, like most human endeavor, is a “show me” religion. By that, I mean that people shouldn’t have to ask to what religion you belong. One’s faith should be apparent by the way in which we openly and actively live our lives. St. Peter tells his own disciples to engage in good works so noticeably that people will ask why we are living so counter-culturally. We then have an opening for the evangelization to which we are called.
Is this call to obedience the be all and end all of Jesus’ message? I tend to think not. The notion of obedience is at the heart of the problems encountered by Paul and Barnabas in the first reading. The early Christian community struggled mightily with their thousand-year obedience to Torah, especially as its requirements ran headlong into the great influx of Gentile, or non-Jewish, converts. The struggle centered on the question, “to whom are we to be obedient?” The Torah, or Jesus and the Holy Spirit? They eventually resolved the conundrum by choosing obedience to Jesus’ call to love guided by the Holy Spirit, over the strict rules of Torah.
Jesus often stressed that blind obedience and strict adherence to Torah without love undermined the relationship with God that was to be the ultimate goal of all those rules. One of the payoffs for the Israelites for keeping Torah was the idea of shekinah, that God would dwell in their midst. As Christians, we understand that the ultimate act of shekinah is the Incarnation. Because God loves us, God chooses to become one us, and show us how we are to build God’s kingdom. And with that we’re back to the Mandatum, and the Last Supper Discourses in today’s Gospel.
We are called not to blind obedience, but to a love that reflects our response to God’s love of us. When we respond to God’s love by showing the world how we love, we make the world the place that God intended. We help to create a world that operates not on blind obedience to laws, but is rooted in the faith that God’s love is present in and through our good works. If we could just live that call to love, what a wonderful world this would be.
– Barry Zavislan