Fr. Dumisani Vilakati, Diocese of Manzini, Eswatini
The readings on this Sixth Sunday of Easter speak of the benevolence of God who welcomes all to worship within the community of believers. Inclusivity and working for peace is a manifestation of the presence of God in the world.
The first reading recalls the acceptance of Non-Jews into the Christian Church. Whereas some people in the Church were of the view that only those who had been circumcised should be accepted, the final decision was that this would not be necessary. Circumcision, as we know, is a procedure that causes pain. As such therefore, it would discourage many from following the Christian faith. The reading is clear that the decision was taken so as not to trouble the non-Jews. The protagonist of this decision is the Holy Spirit working in the Church. “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no further burdens upon you”. This is not to give permissions for doing as one likes. Conditions are placed on those wishing to be followers of Christ. Chief among these is distancing oneself from idolatry. Idolatry is, in its original meaning, the worship of self as if oneself were God almighty. We have to worship and imitate God who welcomes all into his Church.
The psalm extols the qualities of a God who is merciful. We note the universal appeal of God’s benevolence. Yes, the Psalter is a Jewish hymn book. Nevertheless, we are invited to observe its universal reach. “May the nations rejoice and exult. For you judge the peoples with equity and you direct the nations on earth”. Thus, God’s goodness and mercy belongs to all.
The second reading invites us to view an image of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. The number twelve, which symbolises a certain fullness and completeness, abounds. It is used for the angels, the twelve tribes of Israel, the gates, foundation stones and the twelve apostles. The mention of the gates is important as this was the normal location where the city elders would gather so as to adjudicate cases and resolve conflicts. Henceforth judgement will not just be located at one gate, but twelve gates. There will thus be limitless justice as God judges nations with equity. There is no Temple in the old sense but God himself is the Temple. In the Ancient Near East, the Main Temple would normally be in the centre of the city. Thus, God stands at the centre of this New Jerusalem. God should be at the centre of our lives. Again, this is a summons to all to flee from idolatry, i.e. from self worship.
The gospel relates Jesus’ response to the question of Judas, not the Iscariot, about how Jesus will manifest himself to the disciples. The answer is Jesus manifests himself in those who keep his word. Keeping Jesus’ word means loving other people as Jesus has loved us. It is also working for peace which leaves hearts untroubled. Keeping Jesus’ word manifest’s God’s presence in the world. There is a great need for people who work for the promotion of peace and unity in our world today. This is what we are invited to on this Sixth Sunday of Easter.