Deacon Steven M. Johnson – St. James, Belvidere, IL
Homily for the 5th Week of Easter, Thursday, 5-6-21, Year B
READINGS: 1st Acts 15:7-21, Gospel Jn 15:9-11
Theme: Law vs. Faith
Some say the Catholic Church is the new Pharisees of Jesus’s time, full of laws and rules and requiring strict adherence to them. All we should need is faith, right? Why so many rules?
On the surface and to a person without much formation in understanding the bible and Christ, one might think this true. In some ways it can be if not understood in the context of Christ’s teachings. Following rules for the sake of rules is no faith at all, rather, it is a conformance to a routine, to checking off the boxes and saying we have completed a task. That is not what Jesus asks of us.
In reality, each rule or guide within our Church is there to support and bolster our faith and strengthen us in our battle against evil here on Earth. It is our road map to heaven with its own check points and signposts along the way to keep us on track and heading in the right direction vs. going around in circles. We use them so we do not get lost, and we end up at our destination in heaven with God, the angels and saints and our loved ones.
Jesus encountered a strict adherence to the law during His ministry from the Pharisees and the Sadducees. For them, what once used to be a pure faith bolstered by God’s law through Moses, became a false faith in the law itself as a god. It became a routine, one that checked the boxes off and completed the task with little or no faith that what one was doing had anything to do with God, himself. What used to be open to all became a closed community made relevant only by following rules and practices created over time and not God’s love.
The apostles encountered the same, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the disciples followed Jesus instead of the law and put faith in Christ’s teachings first, including all humanity as part of God’s fold. If we believe that Jesus loves us, then we also believe that we love each other, no matter who they are.
During Jesus’s ministry, the Jewish faith had 613 commandments (an increase of 603 from the original 10 given to Moses).
Jesus had two.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)
And when Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, He left these final words of instruction to His disciples:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19-20)
Jesus did not say go and baptize just Jews, or adults or a particular race. He said go to all! Jesus also did not set before the apostles 613 laws to follow, but two. And Jesus’s instructions were not burdensome or exclusive, but simple and inclusive. The disciples recognized this and brought Christ’s love to all people.
All of Jesus’s teachings and commandments can be drawn down to this simple instruction: Love God first, then love your neighbor, and finally go out into the world to bring that love to all others by the forgiveness of sins through Baptism. If we truly follow this simple instruction, we cannot help but fulfill all of the other requirements our faith asks of us. Things like kindness, helpfulness, inclusiveness, love, acceptance, awe of God and the desire to serve Him. We will naturally want to come to church, to pray, to give thanks, to ask God for help, to be forgiven, etc. etc.
When we do this, we will find that we are in Jesus’s love just as He is in the Father’s love and therefore, through Jesus, we are in Father’s love also.