|Peace be with you!
The moment everything changes takes your breath away, causes your heels to dig in, and a firm “no” to come out. Fear replaces happiness; anxiety replaces peace; questions replace answers. Sometimes the change takes place over time, as with a child taking on more responsibilities. Other times the change happens in a split second, as when an individual becomes paralyzed in a car accident. Change requires patience, understanding, grace, an open mind, and dedication. Life changes define each chapter, each generation, and each cause.
Each individual handles changes differently depending on their past experiences and personality. Take the second example: A person who is paralyzed in an accident can be intimidated by all of the changes in their life, including being in a wheelchair, needing more time and energy to do daily activities, and needing adaptive equipment. This change affects every aspect of a person’s life, even going to the bathroom. How a person handles becoming paralyzed depends on their outlook on life. A pessimistic person will have a harder time adjusting than an optimistic person. A pessimistic person will give up more easily when challenged by a disability and will be skeptical when asked to do something new, while an optimistic person will take on each task with excitement and determination.
The adjustment period to having a disability and being viewed as different is a challenge in itself, even if you are born with the disability. As a teenager, I remember feeling left out of normal activities, such parties with my peers and getting my driver’s license. I blamed my disability for holding me back from making friends and experiencing normal teenage life. When I reluctantly tried adaptive downhill skiing, I finally realized I was looking in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. Instead of expecting to do things like my peers, I needed to look for outlets, which emphasized my abilities. When a person is paralyzed, he needs to surround himself with people who will lift up his abilities and interests. She needs to learn new ways of doing what she enjoys. It takes time to learn to accept your disability and to live your life based on your actual interests and abilities. When you do this, you are able to enter a community, which will welcome you with open arms and will lift you up.
In the same way, we place limits on our faith—what we believe is in and out of bounds. In Acts 11, circumcised Jews are criticizing Peter for sharing meals with Gentiles who are not circumcised. Peter explains he had a vision where a voice told him to go kill and eat four-legged animals (Acts 11:6-7). As a Jew, Peter believed these four-legged animals were unclean and should not be eaten, basing his belief on the Torah. These four-legged animals were out of bounds for Jews. However, the voice told Peter, “God has made these four-legged animals clean” (see Acts 11:9), and therefore he could eat them. In the vision, the voice explains how Peter should not condemn what God has made clean. It is not our job to determine what is clean and unclean; however, it is our job to do God’s work in the world.
Ever since he sent Jesus Christ, the Messiah, into the world to die for our sins, God has been doing new things. God no longer makes distinctions between clean and unclean or between Jews and Gentiles.
Then the Spirit tells Peter to go with six believers to a Gentile man’s house and to share the good news with the entire household (Acts 11:12). The Spirit instructs Peter not to make a distinction between “them and us” when proclaiming the good news to the household.
During civil rights movements, there was a “them” and “us” division. In the suffrage movement, the distinction was between male and female. Other distinctions are between white and black, between able and disabled, between heterosexual and homosexual, and between slave and free. These distinctions create barriers between groups and make one group feel second-class and the other group feels superior. It stops us from loving our neighbors as Jesus instructs us to do (John 13:34) when we divide ourselves by creating a “them” verses “us” morality.
After Peter tells the Jews how the Spirit instructed him to go to a Gentile man’s house to share the good news, he asks them, “How can I argue with the Lord over what is clean and what is unclean?” (see Acts 11:17). Through Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection, God is changing how people should be viewed and who can be in a relationship with him. Now all can be in a relationship with him, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, political views, abilities, and [whatever “it” is] by which we make distinctions. By calling us to love our neighbors, Jesus calls us to back down from the “them” and “us” division in order to start a dialogue with people who are different than us. This dialogue allows us to learn from each other and to bring heaven into the world.
Change is inevitable when dialogue begins between two or more groups. This starts breaking down divisions and begins to build relationships around trust, loyalty, and respect. Each of the groups who have worked for increased civil rights in this country have faced oppression and unfair treatment. African-Americans, women, and people with disabilities have all experienced being pushed aside, as though they are not humans and are inconveniences to society. Each of these groups has demanded equality and to be heard by society. Women wanted to be equal to men; African-Americans wanted to be equal to Caucasians; people with disabilities wanted equal opportunities as people without disabilities had.
God has already made us equals in his eyes. Jesus suffered on the cross, died, and rose again for all of our sins, not just for the Jewish people. We are all children of God, regardless of our age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, political views, abilities, and [whatever “it” is] that we make distinctions based on. It is our own limits that stop us from knowing what is possible with God by our side. Getting rid of these distinctions allows us to stop placing limit on what God can do and start putting his possibilities into motion. Then we are able to see the Holy Spirit at work in the world.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for breaking down the barriers produced by our human-made distinctions. Help us to be in dialogue and relationship with one another. Lead us to be your instruments in the world. Quiet our minds so we can listen and learn from others. Guide our dialogues so that we may do your will. Thank you for making all of us your children. Amen.
|Fifth Sunday of Easter:
How well do you handle change? Do life changes give you anxiety? Or do you handle life changes with ease?
How do you place limits on yourself? Have you ever tried something you thought you could not do or would not enjoy?
How do you put limits on God? How did God break your barriers?
What distinctions do you make about others? What are the consequences of “them” verses “us” division?
How do you try to get rid of distinctions in your community? What kinds of dialogue did it open up?
When have you been in dialogue with someone who is different? What did you learn? How did it change you?