Sunday Week 6 of Easter Year B

Everything we’ve just heard should cut off, once and for all, any avenue of escape for us. Because I think we all want to escape from being loved by God. Sounds stupid, I know, but everyone I know does it. I catch myself doing it all the time. It usually starts when I’ve disappointed myself—done something I’m not proud of—or not done something I really felt it in my heart to do. I feel a little guilty, a little sad, and I want to hide away from myself. And then I remember all the other times I’ve felt this way and the feeling just grows until maybe I can’t even remember what started it—I just know, on the inside, that the world is divided up into two halves—the ones God loves and the ones God is ashamed of.
But the world isn’t divided up like that. In God’s eyes there are no second class citizens. Like Peter says in the first reading—”I see now that God has no favourites.” Or like the second reading tells us—what’s important is not that we love God but that God loves us. Or like the Gospel says—we are not to think of ourselves as slaves but as friends—God’s friends.
The world isn’t divided up into the people God loves and the people God hates. There are no second class citizens.
And I get uneasy about that. It sounds stupid, I know, but it can be uncomfortable being loved like that. Not always—sometimes it makes me really happy—but sometimes I’m sitting in my harsh judgement enjoying feeling bad and I don’t want to be disturbed. There I am enjoying feeling lousy. It doesn’t feel like enjoyment but it must be or else I’d get out of that mood as quick as I could. But I always stay longer than I need to. God has to really kick me out of that mood. God has to really rub my nose in how much he loves me before I’ll budge. Stupid!
So what’s the pay-off? Why is it so hard to believe that God loves me even when I don’t love myself? Well here’s one thing for a start. Staying put in shame and sadness means I don’t have to bear much fruit, to use the words Jesus uses. It’s a lot safer not believing that God loves you because you can keep you head down. Not do much wrong but not do much good either. If we really believed that God loves us no matter what we do—if we believed nothing at all could ever separate us from the love of God—if we believed that God has no favourites—then who knows what dangerous things we might get up to.
Look at Peter in that first reading. He’s been forgiven so much. He’s learned the hard way that God loves him even if he runs away, even when he turns traitor. So he’s ready to believe that even unthinkable people can be loved by God. Even people who aren’t Jews, even a high-ranking Roman officer. Peter makes a decision then and there that affects us here and now. He sticks his neck out and accepts the first non-Jewish convert. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t! But what happened for Peter afterwards was enormous too—his path took him to Rome to eventually die alongside his new converts. That’s the love that lays down its life for another.
Or look at Jesus. Look where his love led him. He would never be the victim some wanted him to be and he would never be the man of violence the way others wanted him to be. Out of love he did all sorts of inconvenient things. He broke his religion’s commandments. He spoke uncomfortable truth to the rich and powerful. And chose to eat and drink with people who were considered dirty, bad, and dangerous. He stuck out his neck so many times that he ended up giving his life for us all.
That’s why it’s easier not believing in God’s love. If we did who knows where it would take us? It took Peter to Rome. It took Jesus to Jerusalem. Where would it take you or me? It’s so much easier to think that we don’t matter much. That God can’t love us much. That we are better off keeping our heads down.
But the words of scripture don’t leave us any avenue of escape. We matter. Each one of us. God loves us. Each one of us. Enough to give his life for us. (And, who knows, maybe with practice we might even get to enjoy being loved that much.)
God loves us. Enough to give his life for us. Enough to give his life for anyone. Even for the people you or I wouldn’t give the time of day to. But for God the world isn’t divided up like that. In God’s eyes there are no second class citizens. God has no favourites. What’s important isn’t that we love God but that God loves us. There are no slaves any more—only God’s friends.
So let’s be proud of that. Let’s lift our heads up high. And who knows where that might take us. Who knows what we might do. But wouldn’t it be good to see!