One of the questions behind the quarrel in today’s reading from Acts of the Apostles always gets a reaction from my high school students: Must someone who’s uncircumcised really undergo … THAT … to become Christian?
To us, looking back on this story nearly 2,000 years later, we might almost laugh at the extent to which the early church went to define “who’s in” and “who’s out.” But do we really act any differently? Are we able to remind ourselves — after Jesus’ resurrection — that our own way forward may not be evident, easy to see or even “impossible?”
At this writing, most mask mandates around the U.S. have been lifted, and life is returning to “normal” (whatever that even was). This, after having separated ourselves into camps that view the wearing of masks as either a concession to government overreach or an act of protection (for ourselves or others). And I’m not even mentioning the deep social, racial, and political divisions that reached visible peaks in the summer of 2020 and on January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol.
Our lives are anything but “normal.” A little more than a year ago, my spiritual director floated a phrase that stuck in my mind: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” With all of the time we just had to slow down, turn inward, and become attentive to the ways we, as a society, are “sick,” we ought to be able to “re-enter” the world with new attention to others’ experiences, needs, and stories.
Because of the — literal and figurative — distance between each other, it’s easy to jump back into our old normal as North-Americans and only read the externals: Who wears a mask and who doesn’t; who voices support for Black Lives and who is more quiet in their solidarity; and now, who supports Ukraine and who (without giving credence to the Kremlin) asks questions about NATO “poking the proverbial hornets’ nest,” as it were.
In today’s reading from Revelation, the author, presumed to be John, writes about an image of Jerusalem heavily fortified with a “massive, high wall,” and 12 gates facing the four directions. The message Jesus gives in the Gospel is starkly different:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. (John 14:27)
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were building our own “walls” around ourselves. Our culture breeds in us a sense of constant scarcity, and a need to safeguard whatever security we have — be it economic, social, political, or proprietary. It’s a very human instinct, but Jesus always invites us to seek our hope, our treasure, our peace, elsewhere.
St. Óscar Romero once gave a Christmas Eve homily in which he said that there would be no Christmas for the rich and the powerful. Their gaze was so focused on those things that they were blind to the saving power of the Christ-child.
I think the same can be said for those of us today: We can be blind to the truth and power of the Resurrection. For those of us who back far into camps of political division, without taking time to hear “the other,” Christ will remain on the cross until we reach across the walls we’ve created for ourselves to let him down.
Scripture reflection for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, May 22, 2022 (Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time).
For more scripture reflections from Maryknoll lay missioners, click here.