Season of Joy
Today's Season of Joy reflection on John 15:9-11 & Acts 15:7-21 is by Laurie Roche.
A retired journalist and public relations executive, Laurie now devotes herself to environmental conservation and education, community gardening, and habitat restoration. She chairs the Healthy Earth Team at St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Cincinnati and is active in its community gardening initiatives in a neighboring lower-income community. Laurie is a wife of 43 years, a mother, and grandmother.
God Is Bigger Than Our Rules
from John 15:9-11
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love...
To read the full scripture passage, please visit: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/
Rules, rules, rules. Of course we need them, but they also make trouble.
They feed our human propensity for making distinctions, for judging and separating, for building walls and divisions, for keeping some in and others out.
What's worse, rules are often used to shrink our God to a very small size, a god we think we can understand, keep at a distance, or inside a box.
Scriptures today, from Acts and from John, have much to teach us about which rules are important and which are not; which rules may guide us on a path of transformation, and which simply get in the way.
In the first reading, the Apostles have gathered at the Council of Jerusalem to discuss what rules and observances are important for their new church.
The Holy Spirit is working among them because wisdom prevails. They recognize that when ritualistic rules are in place, Mosaic Law in this case, people tend to worship the rules as if they were ends in themselves.
Burdensome divisions inevitably ensue, putting God to the test Peter says, which I take to mean: God becomes exasperated with our pettiness.
We are all saved through the grace of Jesus, Peter says, no distinctions. Hearing this bit of truth, the whole assembly fell silent.
Perhaps they were remembering how Jesus went about upturning rules, showing people that they are made for better things; that they are made to be merciful, and to love one another.
And yet our gospel reading may appear to be a contradiction at first.
Jesus is asking us to keep his commandments—his rules—but he has told us clearly many times that there is but one most important commandment, to love God and one another.
If we do that, you will remain in my love, Jesus said.
Remain, linger in the love of God, meaning that all other commandments to holiness and goodness will be fulfilled naturally if we keep the most important one.
Jesus continues, "I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete."
I'm struck by the word "complete." What is this joy that is complete? Not partial, not tempered, not somewhat, not sort of, but complete.
To me it is the joy of understanding, down to my heart and bones, that all of God's creation is connected in one magnificent web of life.
My beloved grade school science teacher, Mr. T. we called him, taught me about this web of life and I've never forgotten it.
In fact, I consider this insight, which comes easily to me, to be a gift from God.
These days I'm using that gift in my small way to help protect our environment, restore natural habitats, and build community through gardening and living more sustainably.
Jesus' commandment to love one another means that I see the face of God in all creation: not only in my human brothers and sisters, but in the largest whale suckling her calf far out in the ocean, and in the tiniest oak seedling, reaching for light from the forest floor.
I am guided by Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si," on care for our common home. If we feel intimately united with all that exists, Francis writes, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.
In other words, follow the first commandment to love one another, and we will be transformed to lead lives of holiness, justice, and compassion.
In the example of our place in God's creation, we will recognize our responsibility as stewards, and we will cease to act as master exploiters who behave as if nothing else has a right to exist.
Our God is a God of connection; a master weaver of the web of all life.
Our creator has shown us through the life of Jesus that mindless devotion to rules leads us away from devotion to one another and to all of creation.
God is so much bigger than all our rules. And, in knowing that, our joy is complete.
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