FROM A READING FOR MAY 10, SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
'Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love...'-- I John 4:7-8


Sunday's Acts (10:25-26,34-35,44-48) passage narrates the biblical beginning of one of the three basic changes made in Christianity's first century and a half: the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church as Gentiles.

Originally, non-Jews who wished to become disciples of the risen Jesus were expected to first convert to Judaism, and only then convert to Christianity. Since the historical Jesus was a reformer of Judaism, why would a non-Jew want to follow Him? Because He had preached his reform in the context of the religion He professed -- Judaism -- His earliest disciples logically presumed they had to imitate His reforming faith against that same background.

Yet, eventually some of those disciples began to understand more implications of Jesus' resurrection than they had first recognized. As Paul tells his readers in Galatians 3, the risen Jesus was quite different from the historical Jesus. Whereas the latter was a Jew, the former had become both Jew and Gentile.

Gradually Gentile
Neither was this "new creation" restricted to being a slave or a free person -- not even to being a man or woman. For "progressive" Christians like Paul, that meant more than just free, Jewish men could become other Christs.

Though this theology was widely accepted by the time Luke composes Acts in the mid-80s, he paints a picture of a gradual process which leads up to it: First, "heretical Jews" (Samaritans) are permitted to become Jesus' followers; next, Philip baptizes a Gentile convert to Judaism, the Ethiopian eunuch.

Finally, in Sunday's first reading, Cornelius -- simply a "God-fearing" Gentile -- and his family are evangelized and baptized by Peter.

Of course, once Gentiles as Gentiles are accepted as full partners in the faith, most of Jesus' followers begin to ignore the 613 laws of Moses to which first-century Jews were committed. Though Matthew's Jesus -- addressing the evangelist's Jewish/Christian community -- insists His disciples still keep each of those 613 precepts, our Christian biblical authors normally revolve their morality around love. It's not only the one act that unites Jewish and Gentile Christians; it's the one principle on which the historical Jesus based His reform. Love of others is at the heart of Jesus' faith.

Jesus' love
No one expresses this principle better than John's Jesus (John 15:9-17). "This is my commandment," He proclaims: "Love one another as I love you."

Should anyone have any doubt about what such love entails, He continues, "No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

The author of I John (4:7-10) insightfully expands Jesus' command. "Beloved," he writes, "let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love."

The writer is convinced all this love stuff actually began with God. "In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins."

Though Luke's Peter is motivated to baptize Cornelius because of both a vision from God and the Spirit's gifts which come down upon the centurion and his family, most commentators on the subject believe love might have historically played a bigger role in Gentile conversions than is mentioned in the Acts narrative.

Our sacred authors were convinced God never created any junk. It just takes some of God's creatures a little while to figure that out.