In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles Peter—interpreting his experience with Gentile Cornelius and the extraordinary vision of the sheet of unclean animals—announces: “Truly I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable.” This is extraordinary and important, and Peter, like us, can really only begin to unravel and appropriate what it may mean. The Bible, both testaments, is filled with language of election: Jews first, then Christians, and rarely both at once, it seems. Is not difficult to read these many passages so that they support choice (election) on the basis of ethnicity, class, gender, practices, virtue. And yet Peter says, in effect, “This can’t be right, we must have misunderstood.” The Easter readings—all of them not just Sundays—are filled with the Gospel of John, where Jesus offers rich language to suggest how God is: available to all who wish to be in relationship (and to others as well). How can we probe our pathology of “exclusivism” without immediately surrendering to “no standards at all,” since that can’t be right either? Helpful is the insight that we humans seems to function as though everything were a zero-sum game: not enough for all; if I have something, you lack it, and if you are interested, I’d better corner it. This grounding viewpoint leads to comparisons, and of course “we” have to be best. But it’s not like that with God, Jesus says, many times. This teaching is so difficult to contemplate, to experience, to convert ever more deeply toward. You are friends, not servants, Jesus invites: not needing to guard constantly to be sure we are gaining favor and not displeasure by our servile efforts. Which of these relationships—servant or friend—is modeled daily by our world, our nation, our Church, our family or community, ourselves? If we act primarily like servants, how can we move toward Jesus, who says, no, we are friends?
Barbara Green, O.P.