The basic story of Christianity is this: God created mankind, but mankind was sinful and thus separated from God. So, God sent a part of Himself—His Son, Jesus Christ—to become a man and pay the price for sin, and restore the broken relationship between God and mankind.
Now, the basic story of Christian churches since Jesus’ time is this: After having their sins forgiven, followers of Christ immediately sinned again by excluding people from their fellowship on the basis of race, class, gender, or language.
In this week’s first reading, St. Peter and his friends were stunned to witness the conversion of a Gentile. After it occurred, Peter declared, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
It’s as if Peter was saying, “Oh, NOW I get it. When Jesus said ‘everyone,’ he meant EVERYONE.”
Throughout His entire ministry, Jesus made it clear the gift of salvation is not just for one small group of people. It is universal. It’s available to everyone. God offers His love to the whole world, and anyone who responds with love and puts his or her faith in God can claim that salvation, regardless of race, class, gender, or language.
St. Peter should have known this. He was present when Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus didn’t say some nations; He said ALL nations. Then, after Pentecost, Peter himself preached to a crowd: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). Inspired by the Holy Spirit as he spoke, Peter clearly said EVERYONE.
In the second reading this week St. John tells us what is required to be in relationship with God: “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
In the gospel reading this week, Jesus tells his disciples: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.”
The key requirement is love. It’s not who your parents are, not what language you speak, not how much money you have, not the color of your skin. It’s simply love. Do you love God? And do you love your neighbor as yourself? Love is the only requirement to be in a relationship with God.
If St. Peter and the other first century believers—the ones who saw and heard Jesus in person—had a hard time understanding that God’s salvation is offered to everyone, it’s not surprising that countless other people over the centuries have struggled with this issue, too.
For 2,000 years Christian churches, denominations, and faith communities have been in the habit of erecting high walls plastered with “Keep Out” signs—sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly. It’s part of mankind’s sinful nature.
This desire to be among “our own kind” is an understandable aspect of human nature. (For example, I personally would feel much more comfortable in a shopping mall that wasn’t crawling with young people who are compelled to display their body piercings, tattoos, and foul mouths in front of total strangers. My major prejudice these days seems to be age-based. I’d love to visit a place where no one under 50 is present. Hmm, maybe that’s why I enjoy going to church.)
To be a member of Jesus’ church, it’s not about who you are, it’s about Who you serve. It’s not what you look like, it’s what you believe.
If, as we read in this week’s gospel, the Son of God considers us His friends—to the point of laying down His life for us—what must He think when we are unfriendly and inhospitable to people who wish to join our fellowship? When we finally stand before Him in judgment, the moment after our death, that could be really awkward.