This morning’s Gospel reading is John 14:23–29:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
“I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”
We’ve all been invited to events with the proviso Come as you are, meaning that casual dress is the order of the day. Certainly we have occasions where part of the fun (for most of us) is in the preparation — weddings, proms, business events, and so on. Almost everyone likes to dress up for a party, at least once in a while. We take pictures to document it, especially when it comes to weddings, where even the process of getting prepared for the big event gets thoroughly photographed to enshrine those moments in our own hearts and those of friends and family, sometimes for generations.
Come as you are signals another kind of pleasure — that of open acceptance. It requires no preparation or thought except to welcome others in the same manner. While getting dressed up might be fun for some occasions, it also sometimes induces stress and insecurity. Have I dressed appropriately? Will I be accepted? The invitation to come as you are dispenses with that, and offers the kind of security that loving family and friends offer each other.
In today’s first reading (Acts 15:1–2, 22–29), the early church faces this question as it works to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission — the spread of the Gospel to all the world, as instructed in Matthew 28:18-20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus instructs the apostles, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Some evangelists in the early church understood this as a call to require Gentiles to convert to Judaism, specifically through circumcision — a move that caused many to reject the Gospel. Paul and Barnabas objected to this, and what became known as the Council of Jerusalem was called to consider the question.
In the end, the Council of apostles and elders decided that Christ had sent them out on the Great Commission not to convert the world to Judaism as such, but to bring salvation and the forgiveness of sins to all people, where they were and as whom they were. They were required to transfigure their hearts, not their physical appearance, and accept Christ not as the messiah of the Hebrews but as the savior of the whole world.
In a sense, that is the ultimate come as you are invitation — and to the biggest event one could ever hope to attend. And as Jesus instructs in today’s Gospel, it’s a wedding of sorts, too. The invitation is to share the divine Trinitarian life, as described in our second reading from Revelation 21. John describes the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, the dwelling shared between the Lord and His people. “The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,” John relates, “for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.” We are not called to come as we are merely to share a house with the Lord, but to live in God’s glory as His children.
But this is not quite a call to come as you are. Christ does not require an outward change of appearance, but an inward change of heart. He calls on followers to “keep my word,” and that those who love him will do so. When that happens, Jesus says, “We we come to him and make our dwelling with him.” The Holy Spirit will dwell in our hearts, as we invite Him to come as He is.
But what exactly is the “heart,” as meant by Jesus? It’s not the physical organ that pumps our blood, but our spiritual core. The heart is the intersection of our intellect and our will, where we make our decisions and express who we are. If Christ and His salvation comes to us where we are, we must form ourselves to be ready to accept the Holy Spirit in our hearts — not just as a fuzzy attraction or an intellectual decision, but to open ourselves to the Paraclete to form us as disciples. We must be transformed from what we were before accepting Christ as our Savior by the Holy Spirit into people who mourn our own sins, understand our shortcomings, and come to Christ to help us move away from the sin that separates us from the Lord.
When we are ready to do that, Christ will send the Holy Spirit to us as we are, imperfect and stumbling, and help form us into God’s children in our hearts. The nature of this invitation is one to formation within, rather than a change of appearance without. He comes to us where we are and as we are, but we come to Him willing to be transformed and transfigured, and given the grace to live with the Lord in eternal joy. May we all RSVP in the affirmative.
The front-page image is a window of the Holy Spirit in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, from my own photo collection.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.