To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Rev 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14:23-29
A priest was invited to a meal by one of his parishioners during the season of Lent and on a Friday. He sat down at table and was surprised when most of the dishes placed in front of him contained meat. He remarked to the parishioner that they were in the Lenten season and, even more significant, that the day was Friday and meat could not be eaten. The parishioner replied, “Do not worry, father. I sprinkled some holy water on all the meat, baptized it, and called it fish.” Did the meat become fish? Did the priest eat the “meat”? Was he guilty of sin if he did eat? Was the parishioner making a joke of the whole Lenten season? These are questions for which we find responses in the readings of today.
Christianity was never meant to be a religion of rules and regulations. More than once, Jesus encountered people who had made rules and regulations ends in themselves. And, more than once, indeed often, in his responses to such people, he would ask that the focus be on love rather than on law, that it be on the person rather than on the rule, and that it be on the heart rather than on the body. Yet, it seems that, more and more, we continue to focus on the external rather than the internal.
This is evident in the first reading of today when, a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the first Christian community is debating about what makes a Christian and a disciple of Jesus. Their focus is on the external, on circumcision, on the body. However, even as they debated, they realised that this is not what Jesus had intended at all. The Spirit inspired them to change their focus to the internal, to the heart. This is the same Spirit that Jesus promised the disciples in the Gospel text of today. This Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and so, will not teach something different from what Jesus taught. Rather, the Spirit that Jesus sent, and continues to send, will reinforce and confirm all that they have been taught by Jesus. By listening to this Spirit of freedom, they will be empowered to keep the word spoken to them and enable Jesus and the Father to make a home with them. The word spoken to them by Jesus was not a set of rules and regulations. The word spoken to them was not a list of commandments. The word spoken to them was not, primarily, a word about the law. It was always, with Jesus, a word of love. This is why the gift that Jesus leaves with the disciples is the gift of peace, which means wholeness and well being. The focus of the gift is the heart.
Since this is so, the Book of Revelation, in the second reading of today, can speak of the apostles as being the foundations of the new Temple and of God and Jesus being the Temple. There are no bricks and no walls that make up the new Temple. It is a Temple which has as its cornerstone, Jesus himself. This new Temple will not need external light. It will not even need the sun and the moon. Jesus will be all the light that the Temple needs.
Why is it that, almost from the “foundation” of Christianity, and continuing even today, the Church has focussed on externals and on what constitutes and does not constitute sin? There could be a variety of reasons for this. The core reason, however, seems to be that, like Jesus was misunderstood so often in his lifetime, he was misunderstood also after his death and resurrection. Instead of being content with living out the message of love, the Church became more interested in converting others to Jesus. Instead of showing, in and through the reality of love, what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus, the Church focussed, on merely proclaiming the word. Instead of concentrating on Jesus and his Spirit, the Church shifted the focus to everything else. We moved our gaze away from the crucified Jesus and risen Christ.
What must we do to bring back this focus? What must we do? Only one response is required: the response of love. As Jesus lived out throughout his life, and in the face of all opposition, the reality of unconditional and absolute love, so we, as Church, are called to do so today. We need not concern ourselves so much with numbers and statistics, but with living out the message that Jesus brought. We need not concern ourselves with external conversions, but must focus more on the conversion of the heart. We need not worry so much about eating or not eating meat and fish and thus, what goes in, but must concentrate instead on what comes out from within. Then, that Temple, which John speaks about in the second reading of today, will become a reality. Then, its light will be the glory of God and the Lamb. Then, the Spirit that Jesus sent, and continues to send even today, will not be stifled and will be free to transform our lives and the lives of those we encounter and so, win them over to love.