Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Some have called his body of work "a theology of the Word."
He exercised profound influence on other 20th-century figures, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, Jürgen Moltmann and John Updike. Barth actively opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, and vigorously attempted to prevent the Nazis from establishing a state church.
|Sixth Sunday of Easter|
|Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48
1 John 4:7-10
One of the most prolific theologians of the time, Barth emphasized the sovereignty of God and "the infinite qualitative distinction" between God and humankind. His massive 13-volume work Church Dogmatics is one of the largest and most profound works of systematic theology ever written.
The story is told about an occasion when Barth was asked, "What is the most profound thought that ever entered your mind?"
After a brief moment of reflection, Barth replied, "The most profound thought I have ever known is the simple truth: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Indeed, each of the readings for today imparts the same truth -- God loves us, Jesus loves us. Is there any thought more profound?
In today's first reading from Acts, we see Peter slowly growing into the realization that God is impartial and undiscriminating. God loves and accepts all who stand in awe before God regardless of their race, gender, social status, age or background. This was a lesson Peter learned well, but not without difficulty.
For all his life, he had kept his distance from gentiles, believing them to be ritually unclean. He did not enter their homes, let alone eat with them. Yet, through God's intervention in the form of visions and an angel messenger, Peter was able to grasp something of God's universal, salvific plan for all of humankind.
This was a watershed moment for the early church, and it is presented as such by Luke, who devotes almost two complete chapters to Cornelius' story. When others questioned Peter's actions and criticized his openness to gentiles, he defended himself: "If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?" (Acts 11:17).
In today's second reading, the Johannine epistolary writer speaks frankly about love. Love is of God; God is love.
How has God's love been revealed to us? As Beverly Roberts Gaventa has explained, Verse 9 is quite specific with its summation of the Gospel story (Proclamation, Fortress Press, 1996). God's act of sending Jesus Christ into the world reveals what love is.
We can readily grasp this statement because it speaks of love in terms that we understand. Every parent's gut-wrenching fear -- the loss of a child -- reveals God's love. This is the same God who said, "Even if a mother forgets her child, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name" (Isaiah 49:15-16).
The author of 1 John was so convinced of God's love that he made his point again and again, trying to convince the members of his community and his readers through the centuries that God is love. Those who truly know God will love others, and that love will witness to the world of the presence of God among us.
Today's Gospel represents a very important aspect of the tradition and faith deposit of the Johannine community. Jesus is calling his own to remain in his love, to keep the commandments to love another, to go and bear fruit and to ask the Father anything in his name -- all this in order that they might know joy.
This joy will be referenced again in John 16:24, where Jesus urges the disciples to pray in his name "so that your joy may be complete," and in 17:13, where he tells his own that his joy will be complete in them. Jesus did not call sad sacks unto himself. He calls out to us as brother, sister, friend.
He remains in us, and we in him. He is the revelation of the love of God for us. "The greatest honor you can give to God is to live in joy because of the knowledge of God's love. If our joy gives honor to God, then it is our duty to be joyful" (Julian of Norwich, circa 1342-1423).
[Patricia Sánchez holds a master’s degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]