We’ve all heard of that wonderful organization Doctors Without Borders. Volunteer professional doctors, nurses and medical people from around the world who volunteer to go and bring their professional skills to help men, women and children victimized by war, famine and disasters of any kind. They look beyond people’s faith, culture, social standing and see only brothers and sisters in desperate need.
Unfortunately we are not people without borders. We want our own space. We mark out borders protecting our space to keep out the people we don’t want in our lives. They could be alienated spouses or relatives, people we dislike in our place of work or men and women of other faiths or cultures or lifestyles, people we see as suspicious newcomers, people of different life styles. There can be any number of people we really don’t want to be part of our lives. We don’t want them crossing our borders.
The compatriots of Jesus had their borders too. They saw themselves as special, their scriptures told them time and again, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Their land was a holy land given to them by God, it stretched from Dan to Beersheba. They had their own dietary laws and social restraints. In their mindset they were the chosen of God, all others were left to their own devices. They stuck to their own and avoided unnecessary contact with strangers.
In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear about Peter coming to the home of Cornelius, a gentile, a Roman Centurion. When Peter meets Cornelius he tells Cornelius, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean and so when I was sent for I came” Then we have this amazing insight of Peter, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, God has no favorites, God has no borders, but that in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” And the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The Jewish Christians were astonished that the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
That’s not the end of the story. Good people resisted this God without borders and strongly resisted the acceptance of Gentiles into the church. In the Acts of the Apostles we hear over and over again of a resistance to accepting Gentiles into the Church. People wanted to maintain their borders, in fact people today maintain borders. God loves, God works, God heals, God is known, only within our borders.
Have you ever heard someone talking about a friend or a neighbour, praising them to the sky for their kindness and generosity and then they blow the whole thing but saying, “And you know they are not even Catholic.” It’s as if God’s life and grace and mercy are contained within the borders of the Roman Catholic Church.
God is a God without borders. The commandment Jesus gives us in today’s gospel, “Love one another as I have loved you” is a commandment that challenges us to live our lives as Christian men and women without borders.
This is not an easy commandment to live. It’s easy to love those who love us, but what about loving people who don’t love us? What about loving those we don’t like, people we try to avoid or people who avoid us? What about loving people with whom we are at odds, people toward whom we feel coldness or anger? What about people, especially relatives, who we haven’t been able to forgive? Can we open our borders to such people?
Love one another as I have loved you. This is not an easy commandment to live. As someone once wrote so succinctly, “That command, love and forgive your enemies, more than any creedal formula or other moral issue, is the litmus test for Christian discipleship.” This is not easy for any of us.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that strengthened by the bread of life we will receive at this Mass we will, with the grace of God, try to live this commandment and love without borders.