Jesus speaks to His disciples about complete joy — about how it can happen for all of us, but there are some necessary steps to attain this complete joy.
The first step is allowing Jesus to love us as He is loved. Contemplate what that means: Jesus wishes a kind of love that animates the Trinity to be within each of us, as a free and unconditional gift that we accept.
Jesus talks about the kind of relationship He wishes to have with each of us. He sees us as His friends, not His slaves. As we live in the world as friends of Jesus, we experience the effect of that friendship on our other relationships. If we are living authentically as friends of Jesus, we begin to see a likeness between our friend Jesus and us. We are to be a healing presence to those around us, to have compassion for those who are strangers or forsaken. We are to be living signs of reconciliation and forgiveness.
My parents tried to teach me that who you hang around with makes a difference in who you become. It’s not such bad company to hang around with Jesus.
Those of us who have been given the great gift of friendship with Jesus and the ability to recognize it sometimes fall into the temptation of thinking that we are better than others. Or we believe that we are filled with knowledge and don’t need to keep learning and growing.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear that Peter is again willing to take a risk and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit rather than stick with the old expected way of doing things. Peter fights off the temptation of allowing Cornelius to compare him to a God. His humility in giving the credit where it belongs allows him not to be sidetracked by the adulation and power but to be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. When he witnesses the evidence of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon the Gentiles, Peter sees the wisdom of God rather than the fear of separation and the fear of the stranger. He takes the opportunity to help those who have been circumcised to recognize the presence of God’s Spirit amongst the Gentiles and then asked the rhetorical question.
“How can we withhold baptism from those who have already been seen worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit?” I’m sure that was a difficult stretch for some of the people in the crowd to accept, but certainly was the wisdom of God and the authority given to Peter to speak.
As the responsorial Psalm reminds us on the sixth Sunday of Easter, “the Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power.”
Even though we call ourselves a catholic (universal) Church, we sometimes see ourselves in very nationalistic or parochial ways. We sometimes think that the only way to do things is what we have seen rather than recognizing the history of what has gone before us as well as what God might be calling us to in the future.
We know that God’s ways are not always our ways — at least that’s what we say we believe. We know that God’s wisdom is greater than our wisdom — at least that’s what we say we believe.
This time leading to Pentecost is good for us to look at our ability to be humble enough, like Peter, to see the actions of the Holy Spirit in unexpected ways and from unexpected people. What in us needs to be strengthened so that we can fight the temptation of adulation or self-centeredness and clearly be open to God moving us in unfamiliar territory with unfamiliar people?
May your joy be complete as you deepen your friendship with Jesus, and use that friendship to lead you to love more deeply, even those who are different.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.