The Sea Will Be No More
These days when we think about the change in climate or the warming of our planet, one consideration that comes to mind early on is the rising level of the seas. From an ecological perspective, the rising of the seas worldwide is caused by the warming and melting of the polar icecaps. As the waters rise, more and more land is covered and lost- sometimes whole islands are inundated and their populations must move to high ground or leave altogether. But when looked at from an anthropological/theological point of view, rising seas are troubling as well. In the bible, starting from the first verses of the Book of Genesis, the “sea” is considered the place of chaos. The Spirit, ruach, hovered over the water to bring some order to the chaos that was the sea. In the Gospel, Jesus calmed the sea and was able to walk on troubled waters. Rising seas, whether from ice melting or chaos in the world of human beings, are not good.
Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation has an important sentence in it: And the sea was no more. Here the scripture is speaking about the human chaos the world was experiencing then and continues to experience on a daily basis, and will finally come to and end, when God’s creative power, the Holy Spirit, will bring about a “new heaven and a new earth.” As I write these words I have to remind myself I’m talking about this very real world in which you and I live every day, not some far off platonic “ideal” world that the fortunate among us might be able to escape to away from this world. As the Spirit of God tries to bring order to this world and better the interactions of human beings with one another, the Evil one seeks to keep the world in expanding chaos. It’s like the saying “things have get worse before they get better.” But the Book of Revelation reveals God’s promise to us is “the sea will be no more.” Chaos will not last forever. Just as God created the earth from the chaos of the sea, so God is creating a new earth from the chaos around us, and you and I, and all of our brothers and sisters, have an important role to play in God’s creative plan.
In order to cooperate with God’s bringing about “a new heaven and a new earth” out of chaos, we need to undergo a “heart” operation. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see how God did a “heart” operation on Peter. God, the Holy Spirit, knew that Peter, if he would be able to lead Jesus’ followers to be faithful, Peter himself would need a important change of heart. Peter, and all those he led, were bound by rules of cleanliness: some practices, animals, and people were clean, but others were not. There were some animals you didn’t eat and some people you didn’t eat with, because they were unclean. This began to change for Peter when he was given a vision of a giant cloth lowered from heaven with every possible type of animal creature on it, and a voice said “Kill and eat.” Peter balked at the mere suggestion of this until he understood that what the vision was showing him was that nothing created by the Lord God was unclean in itself. Un-cleanness was a human judgment and not God’s. Peter, the leader of the disciples and others who would come to follow Jesus, must now consider all things and people from God’s point of view. This is the true meaning of Catholicity: God’s love and plan of salvation is universal. No one or nothing on this earth should be called profane or impure. God is the source of all being and every creature in their being is good. Any effort to create “us/them” divisions among God’s creatures is not from God the Creator, but the creator of chaos.
Jesus knew that he would be leaving his disciples and followers in a world where they would encounter chaos and division. The culture where Jesus’ disciples lived and where we continue to live, attempts to build community by allowing victims to be sacrificed for peace, by capital punishment, killing our enemies, or keeping undesirables at bay. Unfortunately, these attempts, may succeed for a time, but are doomed to fail. They are not catholic or universal enough in their desire to save some, but not all. The culture of the “New Earth” has a universal aspect built on the example of Jesus, the Forgiving Victim, who refused to retaliate against those forces of chaos that put him to death. The “New Earth come down from Heaven” is inclusive of all people and never requires that some people be aligned against some of their fellow human beings.
You’re probably thinking: “How will this New Earth come about on this present earth with all its turmoil and chaos?” Well the first thing I think we can do is to hold on to the promise “that the sea will be no more.” Chaos will come to an end. But on a day to day basis, we take to heart and live by Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel: “A New Commandment I give to you: Love one another.” Interesting, Jesus gave this command to the eleven, after Judas had left to accomplish his betrayal. Those who are intent upon doing evil will burn themselves out, as Judas did, while still remaining an object of God’s mercy: Forgive them for they know not what they do. God can use evil to bring about good. Why didn’t a few of the disciples, after hearing Jesus’ command to love each other, immediately go after Judas and try to talk him out of what he was going to do? Two thoughts: Maybe if Judas hadn’t stopped his betrayal, at the urging of his fellows, it would have hardened him even more to God’s mercy; or, maybe when coming upon a time of trial it’s best to just stay in Jesus’ presence.
We should end this reflection asking ourselves “If Jesus was giving a ‘new” commandment, then what was the “old” commandment?” The “old” command was to love God and love neighbor, right? Loving God and our neighbor is important and wonderful, unless we allow it to be twisted and intensify our dislike or hatred for those who believe differently than we do or those we don’t consider our neighbors. Jesus sees right through that game! The sea will be no more!