Commentary for 6th Sunday of Easter Year B

First Reading: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48

Our first reading today is an extremely important event in the Acts of the Apostles and in the life of the Church. Set several years after Jesus’ resurrection & Saul’s conversion (last week’s reading), God inspires Peter to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (before it was only to the Jews). The Good News is truly meant for all. Jesus desires that all be saved.

“Here we have the story of the Gentile centurion and his household, who are given the Holy Spirit even before baptism. Represented by Peter, the Church then obeys God by recognizing this choice and by sacramentally receiving the chosen ones… Certainly supernatural love can be present outside the Church, but it is precisely this love that drives the centurion Cornelius to become a member of the Church, in which, as the second reading shows, the triune God’s love is central.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 194

25 On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26 But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.”

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles,

This is an echo of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 3:1-5) which was applied to Pentecost in Acts 2:17-18.

46 for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

This is a baptismal formula which appears only in the Acts of the Apostles. This does not necessarily mean that this is the form of words which the apostles normally used in the liturgy rather than the Trinitarian formula prescribed by Jesus (Matthew 28:19). It simply means “becoming a member of Christ, becoming a Christian.”

Psalm: Psalm 98:1–4

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7–10

In our second reading, St. John expands on the second aspect of the divine commandment (cf. 1 Jn 3:23)—brotherly love.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

St Jerome hands down a tradition concerning the last years of St John’s life: when he was already a very old man, he used always say the same thing to the faithful: “My children, love one another!” On one occasion, he was asked why he insisted on this: “to which he replied with these words worthy of John: ‘Because it is the Lord’s commandment, and if you keep just this commandment, it will suffice’ ” (Commentary on Gal., 3, 6, 10).

The divine attributes, God’s perfections, which he has to the highest degree, are the cause of our virtues: for example, because God is holy, we have been given a capacity to be holy. Similarly, because God is love, we can love. True love, true charity, comes from God.

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

“God is love”: without being strictly speaking a definition (in 1:5 he says “God is light”), this statement reveals to us one of the most consoling attributes of God: “Even if nothing more were to be said in praise of love in all the pages of this epistle”, St Augustine explains, “even if nothing more were to be said in all the pages of Holy Scripture, and all we heard from the mouth of the Holy Spirit were that ‘God is love’, there would be nothing else we would need to look for” (In Epist. Ioann. ad Parthos, 7, 5).

9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

“God’s loved is demonstrated in Jesus Christ. When we look at Jesus we see two things about the love of God. (a) It is a love which holds nothing back. God was prepared to give his only Son and make a sacrifice beyond which no sacrifice can possibly go in his love for men. (b) It is a totally undeserved love. It would be no wonder if we loved God, when we remember all the gifts he has given to us, even apart from Jesus Christ; the wonder is that he loves poor and disobedient creatures like us” ~ William Barclay

10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

“We are challenged to love each other because God is love. At the same time, we are reminded that we ought not to think we know by our own resources what love is. Love can only be understood and defined by means of what God has done for us: he has given his Son as an atonement offering for our sins.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 194-5

Gospel: John 15:9–17

9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

Jesus called us to be his friends. He tells his men that he does not call them slaves any more; he calls them friends. Now that is a saying which would be even greater to those who heard it for the first time than it is to us. Doulos (Greek #1401), the slave, the servant of God was no title of shame; it was a title of the highest honour. Moses was the doulos of God (Deuteronomy 34:5); so was Joshua (Joshua 24:29); so was David (Psalms 89:20). It is a title which Paul counted it an honour to use (Titus 1:1); and so did James (James 1:1). The greatest men in the past had been proud to be called the douloi, the slaves of God. And Jesus says: “I have something greater for you yet, you are no longer slaves; you are friends.” Christ offers an intimacy with God which not even the greatest men knew before he came into the world.

The idea of being the friend of God has also a background. Abraham was the friend of God (Isaiah 41:8). In Wisdom of Solomon 7:27 Wisdom is said to make men the friends of God. But this phrase is lit up by a custom which obtained both at the courts of the Roman Emperors and of the eastern kings. At these courts there was a very select group of men called the friends of the king, or the friends of the Emperor. At all times they had access to the king: they had even the right to come to his bedchamber at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him. Jesus called us to be his friends and the friends of God. That is a tremendous offer. It means that no longer do we need to gaze longingly at God from afar off; we are not like slaves who have no right whatever to enter into the presence of the master; we are not like a crowd whose only glimpse of the king is in the passing on some state occasion. Jesus gave us this intimacy with God, so that he is no longer a distant stranger, but our close friend.

~ William Barclay

16 You did not choose me but I chose you.

These are central words of this passage — we have been chosen by God.

  1. Chosen for joy — However hard the Christian way is, it is, both in the travelling and in the goal, the way of joy. There is always a joy in doing the right thing. The Christian is the man of joy, the laughing cavalier of Christ. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms… How can any man fail to be happy when he walks the ways of life with Jesus?
  2. Chosen for love We are sent out into the world to love one another. Sometimes we live as if we were sent into the world to compete with one another, or to dispute with one another, or even to quarrel with one another. But the Christian is to live in such a way that he shows what is meant by loving his fellow men. It is here that Jesus makes another of his great claims. If we ask him: What right have you to demand that we love one another? His answer is: “No man can show greater love than to lay down his life for his friends–and I did that.” Many a man tells men to love each other, when his whole life is a demonstration that that is the last thing he does himself. Jesus gave men a commandment which he had himself first fulfilled.

And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

“Today’s Gospel, the last before Ascension, sounds like a last will and testament: these words are supposed to remain alive in the hearts of believers, permitting Jesus to address us inwardly in heart and conscience long after he no longer lives among us outwardly. These words of farewell are also an irrevocable promise, an assurance that includes, sealed within itself, a requirement… He promises them that his Loe will remain in them — a testamentary commitment — if they remain in his love, if they obey his commandment of love exactly as he has obeyed the Father’s commandment of love. His farewell promises are so overwhelmingly immense that they simply contain within themselves the demands they make of us.” ~ Balthasar, LW, 193

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