Taste and See: God does not have favourites

PeterboroughThe First reading at Mass on Sunday, the 6th Sunday of Easter, offers some of the most radical teaching of the New Testament: God does not have favourites.

As Peter reached the house Cornelius went out to meet him, knelt at his feet and prostrated himself. But Peter helped him up. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘I am only a man after all!’

Then Peter addressed them: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.’

While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, ‘Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to these people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?’ He then gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterwards they begged him to stay on for some days.

Acts 10:25-26,34-35,44-48

God has no favourites. Not Israelites, not pagans. Not those of faith, nor those who lack faith. God loves all, and has no favourites.

It is not that who and how we are don’t matter. Some people are saints and some are sinners through and through. And that matters. Some have made great use of their gifts for their own development and the development of others, and that matters. Though none of it stops God loving us.

But what matters most of all is not where we have got to but where we are are today, as we start today. God’s interest is on the trajectory we now follow, much, much more than where we have come from. We may have achieved much in the past, but what is most important is what, with God on our side, and helping, we achieve today. What we achieve may not seem much, not to others, maybe not even to us, but it seems it delights and satisfies God. His love gets a result!

The ‘unfair’ parables – such as that of the labourers in the vineyard and the unjust steward – make this uncomfortable point again and again. You cannot accumulate points to guarantee you salvation. Yesterday may have taught you some great lessons that will benefit you today, but we either respond to God’s offer of love – to us and to others – today or we don’t. We either present ourselves as fit for the kingdom or we don’t.

Religious observance counts for very little in all this (though it should help us to openness of mind and heart about all of this!) God’s love is freely given – we need to respond to it, and we need to avoid getting in the way of others as they too strive, even struggle, to respond to it.

Peterborough Cathedral. The flooring around the font suggests the saving waters overflowing the stone container, beginning to flood the world with a sign of God’s grace. (c)2011, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Covenant and Love

NoahThe first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, reminds us of the covenant between God and all humankind – those who have survived the Great Flood.

God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind. And so the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.’

Genesis 9:8-15

The Scriptures speak of other covenants too. That made with Abraham, and that with Moses, for example. In the New Testament a new covenant is established, made in the blood of Christ.

Each in their different way speaks of God’s love for his people. – but of them all those with Noah and that made in Jesus Christ are the most universal, directly available to all humankind.

In the recent re-translation of the words of Jesus quoted in the Eucharistic Prayer there can seem to be a restriction placed on the offer of universal salvation won for us by Jesus.

Take this, all of you, and drink from it,
for this is the Chalice of my Blood,
the Blood of the new and eternal Covenant,
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.

The ‘and for many’ implies some are saved and some are not, and that this is Christ’s will.

It surely is his will that we be saved by his love. But not all seem willing to receive such salvation and live by his love: there is is failure of engagement on their part, not by Christ.

As we continue our journey into Lent, and remember the love of God, let us pray for the humility to know our faults, and to accept the sure hope offered us by the Lord.

Photograph of carving at South Door, York Minster. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Christ is for everyone, the meaning of everything.

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In the second reading at Mass on Sunday St Paul speaks of the reconciliation of the world, and all its peoples, by Christ.

Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead! God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

Just as you changed from being disobedient to God, and now enjoy mercy because of their disobedience, so those who are disobedient now – and only because of the mercy shown to you – will also enjoy mercy eventually. God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.

Romans 11:13-15,29-32

  •  What might Christians have that non-Christians might be envious of?
  • What has led you from disobedience to obedience? Or at least to obedience? Or at least to trying to be obedient, or…?
  • What work of reconciliation can you advance today?

Image found here.