Can Anyone Withhold?

I suggest we think of those groups whom (some of) the leadership of the Church appears to consider – and most importantly, acts as if they are – outside of God’s favor, outside of receiving and manifesting the gifts of the Holy Spirit: lesbians, gay men, transgender folks, women who feel called to the priesthood, the divorced – you get the point.

outsider

     In the first reading for today (the Sixth Sunday of Easter), Peter, as a Jew, speaks of his realization that “God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to God.” As Peter pronounces this freshly revealed piece of wisdom, the Holy Spirit falls upon the listening Gentiles, and the Jews accompanying Peter are astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the uncircumcised, “for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.” Standing in their midst, Peter asks, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” Apparently not; Peter orders them “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

As indicated, this passage points to something “freshly revealed.” By this I mean that in reality, God has never shown partiality, even previous to Peter’s realization that this is the case. Hints of God’s unbiased nature abound in the Old Testament (struggling, of course, alongside much human bias projected onto God, as is the case in the New Testament as well), such that Peter is not stumbling upon anything new, but rather is experiencing and understanding something in a “fresh” way, within a context that highlights or renews the mystery of divine impartiality.

This divine impartiality is God’s unconditional or disinterested love. God’s love is not based on conditions that when fulfilled earn one or one’s group a more favorable standing than another, rather, God’s love is based on God’s infinite goodness, mercy, compassion, and generosity; qualities with which God has imbued all human beings as made in God’s image. Even as these qualities in us are limited, and so subject to the constantly changing circumstances of all contingent beings, so that our capacity – personally and socially – for mercy, compassion, love, etc., is developed or decreased (we become more or less like God, we move toward or away from our true nature as images of God), God’s grace is ever and freely offered to help us develop and flourish as daughters and sons of God.

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    So, what might this passage say to us today? I suggest we think of those groups whom (some of) the leadership of the Church appears to consider – and most importantly, acts as if they are – outside of God’s favor, outside of receiving and manifesting the gifts of the Holy Spirit: lesbians, gay men, transgender folks, women who feel called to the priesthood, the divorced – you get the point. Do we need a fresh revelation that these people are actually not outside of God’s love, that the Holy Spirit has also been poured out on them? Can we not see the fruits of the Spirit active in the lives of these? Are they not capable of glorifying God, of manifesting love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and perhaps, even speaking in the tongues of prophecy?

Maybe the lives of these “outsiders” are the current context God is using to once again highlight or renew the mystery of divine impartiality? Perhaps this is not a new teaching, any more than Peter’s understanding was “new,” but is rather the fulfillment of something that has been hinted at in both the Old and New Testaments all along? Perhaps, along with Peter, all of the Church needs to recognize that as long as these “outsiders” fear (or reverence) God, and act uprightly (which is judged by the fruits of their lives, i.e., by their lives manifesting love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), they are a source of freshness in and through which the divine Word is spoken anew – as it has been, is, and will be forever. Amen.

holy spirit

 

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