Generosity

I think that there is one word that sums up the readings today: generosity.

In the first reading, Peter has gone to the port of Jaffa. It’s still there today, next door to Tel Aviv. Peter, remember, was now a senior person in the Church. He had walked with Jesus. His denial had been forgiven by Jesus. He had seen the risen Lord. He was an apostle. Up until now Peter has believed that to accept Jesus as Lord, you must first become a Jew. But pagans – non-Jews – are clamouring to be admitted as well. A dream has told Peter that this has to change. In his dream Peter was instructed by God to eat all kinds of non-kosher food. In the dream, Peter resisted – but, said God, this is not unclean. Peter realises that it refers to the pagans he had previously kept at a distance. He goes to the house of Cornelius. Cornelius is a man who has been thinking about spiritual issues and leading an ethical life as best he could, even attending the synagogue, without formally converting. He is not only a Roman, but an army officer. Peter says. The truth I have come to realise is that God does not have favourites, but anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him. Generosity – the generosity of Peter reflecting the far greater generosity of God. As if to drive the point home, the Holy Spirit promptly falls we are told on everybody present. God’s generosity bursts through the boundaries of race and nationality.

Then the second reading. Here again, generosity. St John tells us: Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. The word ‘begotten’ sounds so strange to us, but it means that we are in a constant process of being shaped, being brought yet more fully into life. In our struggles to love, there is a wonderful spiritual process at work within us. And notice that it refers to everyone. To love is to be open to God’s shaping. We all know good, loving people who do not believe in God. Yet whether they believe in God or not, the very fact of their love draws them into a spiritual communion. We can pray for them what we would pray for ourselves, that love may make us more and more aware of God whose presence is everywhere.

Finally, the gospel. Once more, generosity. I call you friends says Jesus. Here he says to the disciples that from now on he will call them friends. They are his friends. And, since we are the disciples of Jesus today, we are his friends too. He is our divine Friend. A friend is always there for you. A friend is one who listens to us. By a friend's listening a situation is somehow easier to bear, because we have shared how we feel. We sometimes find in a situation of perplexity that once we have shared our situation with a friend, the next step for us becomes clearer. Truly, Jesus is our friend, for he is always there to listen to us, and to listen deeply. Friends are people whose company you enjoy. Friends are people you like spending time with. Too often we have a picture of God as barely tolerating us. Yet in our friend Jesus, as shown in today's gospel, we have the assurance that the Son of God is made happy by looking at the faces of those he knows and loves. Just as we are, with our friends. It says to me that God not only loves us but actually likes us. A thought that can only strengthen us and encourage us as we set out anew each day.

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