Monday, June 26, 2017

13th Sunday A

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Readings: 2 Kings 4:8‑11,14‑16a    Romans 6:3‑4,8‑11     Matthew 10:37‑42

            In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus identifies himself with his disciples whom he sends on mission.  They are called to heroic sacrifice but are assured that those who welcome them also welcome Jesus and the Father who sent him.  Later in Matthew, we learn that those who welcome Jesus' lowly disciples will be invited into the Father's kingdom (see Matt 25:31‑46).
            The story of Elisha's visit to the Shunanmite woman in 2 Kings is paired with the gospel reading.  Both emphasize hospitality to God's messengers and God's gracious reward for such kindness.  This story is very similar to the tale of Abraham and Sarah's hospitality to their three mysterious visitors (Genesis 18).  Not only does the woman urge the prophet “to dine with her,” but she also provides “a little room on the roof” furnished “with a bed, table, chair, and lamp” for whenever he visits.  The reward for such gracious hospitality to a "holy man of God" is the same as in the Abraham‑Sarah story: the barren old couple will be given a child by God.  Elisha promises the woman: “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.” 
            The second reading is taken from Romans 6 in which Paul, in a diatribe fashion, raises and answers a possible objection to the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ.  The objection is: does Paul's gospel encourage converts to continue in sin "that grace may abound" (Rom 6:1)? Paul's answer is a definitive "No!"  He substantiates this by a reflection on the effects of the baptism which Christian converts received.  Paul explains Christian baptism as an entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ which leads to walking in a newness of life (6:1‑4).   Christian baptism involves an ethical conversion: a "death" with Christ to enslavement to sin and a "resurrection" into a life in which Christians "have become slaves of righteousness" (6:18).
            The Gospel reading is the conclusion of Matthew's second  great discourse in which Jesus sends his twelve apostles on mission “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10).   This section reflects two of the characteristics of Matthew's Christology.  First, Jesus‑‑ as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, and the Son of Man‑‑ is bringing about the war and division expected in the Messianic Age.  His apostles will also experience the sufferings predicted for that age (see 10:16‑25).  In the midst of persecution, however, they are assured of the Father's loving protection (10:26‑33).  But radical choices are demanded of them; they must choose between family loyalties and fidelity to Jesus' message.  They must be willing to take up the cross and lose their lives in order to find them.  Second, the disciples represent Jesus and the Father who sent him (10:40‑42; see 18:5; 28:16‑20).  This principle is similar to a rabbinical tradition that "the representative of a person is like himself" (m. Ber  5:5).  Just as those who welcome prophets and holy men receive  their rewards (see the first reading from 2 Kings 4), so those  who welcome Jesus' disciples, even with something as ordinary as  "a cup of cold water," will not want for a reward.     


            Another important feature of this text is the way Jesus describes his disciples.  He refers to as "one of these little ones" (hena ton mikron).  Children and "little ones" is a favorite Matthean designation for the disciples (see 18:1‑9; 19:13‑15; 25:31‑46).  In fact, in Matthew's famous last judgment  scene, the nations are judged and rewarded with entrance into the Father's kingdom on the basis of the way they have treated Jesus'  brethren: "the least ones" who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, ill and imprisoned (see Matt 25:31‑46).  For Matthew, the authentic disciple is the one who becomes "least" in following the master even to the cross.

Monday, June 19, 2017

12th Sunday A

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time A

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10‑13  Romans 5:12‑15  
Matthew 10:26‑33

            This Sunday's readings challenge us to acknowledge our commitment to Christ and the gospel, even in face of insult, betrayal, and persecution.  When we are near despair over the apparent failure of the gospel, let us have the faith to pray the words of the responsorial psalm: "Lord, in your great love, answer me" (Ps 69).
            The first reading is one of Jeremiah's laments in which he cries out to God for justice against his enemies who have denounced and persecuted him because of the horror of his message.  Jeremiah has just been imprisoned, beaten, and put in stocks for announcing that the city of Jerusalem is going to be destroyed for its crimes against God and neighbor.  His message to all has been "Terror on every side!"      
            In this lament we are taken into Jeremiah's own heart where he struggles with the unpopularity, isolation, and vulnerability that his mission has brought him.   He hears “the whisperings of many” who denounce him for his message and watch for any misstep on his part.  In his agony Jeremiah's only consolation is his faith in the Lord as a mighty champion who will rise up to vindicate him against his persecutors: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion:/ my persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.”  By the end of the lament, Jeremiah is already praising the Lord for rescuing him.  “Sing to the Lord,/ praise the Lord,/ For he has rescued the life of the  poor/ from the power of the wicked!”
            In the Romans reading Paul continues to proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus has brought salvation for all humanity.  He uses a typological contrast between Adam, the type for sinful humanity, and Christ, the antitype for redeemed humanity.  Just as the disobedient act of the one man, Adam,  unleashed the demonic forces of Sin and Death into the world and brought condemnation in that all fell into sin, so the  obedient act of Christ, the new man, has brought the gifts of  righteousness and grace.  Paul's emphasis is on the confidence Christians should have in the gracious gift of God. “But the gift is not like the offense. For if by the offense of the one man all died, much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound for all.”
            The Gospel selection is linked to the Jeremiah reading by the theme of the persecution of God’s prophets.  It continues Matthew's missionary discourse in which Jesus is sending his disciples out to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom and to heal the sick.  In this section, Jesus has just warned them that they will be hated and persecuted for the sake of the gospel, just as he has been.  In the face of that hatred, they are not to be intimidated because the truth of the gospel will be triumphantly revealed. “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, and nothing hidden that will not become known.  What I tell you in darkness, speak in the light. What you hear in private, proclaim from the housetops.”

            The disciples are also not to be afraid to acknowledge Jesus before the world because its threats can only deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul which is protected by the Father's loving care.  To assure his disciples of the Father's providential love Jesus uses a parable drawn from nature. “Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.”

With this assurance we should have the courage to acknowledge Christ's kingdom before the world.  Jesus warns us that our judgment before the Father will be based on this.  “Whoever acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before men I will disown before my Father in heaven.”  

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Body And Blood of Christ A

Corpus Christi: Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ A

Readings: Deuteronomy 8:2‑3,14‑16  1 Corinthians 10:16‑17  John  6:51‑58 
    
The readings for the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ present three aspects of the mystery of the Eucharist: (1) as a remembrance of the Lord's past care for his people, (2) as a union with Christ and one another, and  (3) as an anticipation of our eternal life through Christ in God.   In gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist, let us sing the refrain of the responsorial psalm: "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem" (Ps 147).
 In order to understand Moses' words to the Israelites in the reading from Deuteronomy, we need to remember the genre and setting of the book.  Deuteronomy is composed as Moses' farewell to the people after their journey of forty years from Sinai to the plains of Moab, just across the Jordan from the promised land of Canaan.  Moses is about to die; he will not be able to enter the land with the people, and so in his farewell he prepares them for the dangers they will face in the land of milk and honey.
    In this section Moses reminds the Israelites that the Lord is about to bring them into “a good country . . . a land where (they) can eat bread without stint and where (they) will lack nothing .  . .”  (Deut 8:7‑9).  The danger of this prosperity will be that they may forget the Lord who has sustained them for the difficult forty years of wandering in the desert with the gift of “manna, a food unknown to (them) and (their) fathers.”  Each will be tempted to think that “It is my own power and the strength of my own hand that has obtained for me this wealth” (Deut 8:17).  The antidote to forgetfulness is remembrance of the lessons of the wilderness, especially the manna which was given “in order to show . . . that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word (of command) that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”  

           In the second reading Paul is warning the Corinthians that they are not free to participate in the banquets honoring pagan deities, even though they may know that these idols are nothing.  Paul reminds the Corinthian Christians that in their Eucharistic banquets "the cup of blessing" they drink is "a sharing in the blood of Christ" and the bread they break is "a sharing in the body of Christ."  Through this sharing in Christ's covenant of sacrificial love they are united to one another.  "Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body for we all partake of the one loaf."  Paul then goes on to warn the Corinthians that those who partake in the pagan banquets are united to "demons" (see Deut 32:17). "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons.  You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons" (1 Cor 10:21).
          The Gospel reading is part of John's bread of life discourse given by Jesus after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes (John 6).  One of John's themes in this discourse is a contrast between the manna that God sent down to the Jewish ancestors in the desert (John 6:30‑33,51‑58) and Jesus who proclaims “I am the living bread come down from heaven.”  The difference between the manna and Jesus is that between temporary and lasting sustenance.  “Unlike your ancestors who ate and died nonetheless, the one who feeds on this bread shall live  forever” (John 6:58). 

          In John's theology Jesus who gives his “flesh for the life of the world” is the only link to the Father.  All of the images of Jesus in John express this same basic idea.  He is “the Lamb of  God who takes away the sins of the world” (1:29), the living  temple (2:19‑21), the Son sent to be lifted up for the world's salvation (3:14‑17), the living water (4:14), the light of the world (8:12), the “sheep gate” and “the good shepherd” (10:7,14),  the “resurrection and the life” (11:25), “the way and the truth  and the life” (14:6), and “the true vine” (15:1).  The particular focus of the image of Jesus as “the living bread” is that the Eucharistic sharing in Jesus' life‑giving death brings a unity with Jesus and the Father which stretches into all eternity. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feed on me will have life because of me.”

Monday, June 5, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday A

Readings: Exodus 34:4‑6,8‑9  2 Corinthians 13:11‑13  John 3:16‑18

            "Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you."  This exhortation from the conclusion of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians captures the spirit of the Trinity Sunday readings.  God reveals himself to us as a God of love and peace who calls us to live in harmony and peace.  For this wondrous gift we can joyfully sing the verses of the Canticle from Daniel as our responsorial psalm: "Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestors,/ praiseworthy and exalted above  all forever . . ." (Dan 3:52).
            In order to appreciate the revelation of the Lord's gracious name in first reading from Exodus, we need to know the events that immediately preceded it in Exodus 32‑33.  While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the instructions for the building of the ark and tabernacle, the Israelites violate the covenant by making a golden calf and worshiping it.  Their very existence as God's people has been endangered.  When Moses discovers the calf and the people's wild dancing, he angrily smashes the tablets of the covenant.  To insure the survival of the people, Moses repeatedly intercedes for them and begs the Lord to accompany this "stiff‑necked" people as they march on from Sinai toward the promise land.   Finally, the Lord promises Moses that he will reveal his sacred name, and he instructs him to cut two more stone tablets and return to  Mount Sinai.

            The revelation that occurs on the mountain is a high point in the Biblical tradition.  We learn that the Lord is a merciful and gracious God.  When he descends in a cloud, he proclaims his sacred name, "Lord" (written YHWH in Hebrew consonants).  Then the Lord reveals the character of that name by crying out: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."  Despite the repeated sins of Israel and the whole human family, the Lord is ever ready to begin again in mercy and grace.  Having heard this revelation, Moses bows down in worship and says, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.  This is indeed a stiff‑necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.”  In response the Lord promises to lead the people into the promise land and re‑establishes the covenant with the people.     
            The Second Corinthians reading is from the concluding sentences of Paul's letter, and it was chosen for Trinity Sunday because of its blessing: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!"  Paul's conclusion is closely related to the problems facing the Corinthian community.  They were badly divided into factions over the question of leadership.  Some "super-apostles" were claiming spectacular signs and wonders as credentials for their apostolic status.  In contrast, Paul has insisted that the real marks of the true apostle are sufferings in behalf of the gospel of the cross (see 2 Corinthians 11‑13).  In the conclusion Paul wants to bind the community together in harmony and peace.  He asks them to "Greet one another with a holy kiss" and concludes with the blessing, reminding them of the "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (the gift of forgiveness), "the love of God" and "fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit" that is the heart of the Christian gospel.

            The Gospel reading is a theological reflection at the end of Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus in John.  In many ways it summarizes the whole message of John's Gospel.  God's action in sending his only Son into the world is done out of love with the purpose of bringing believers to an eternal life which shares in the very life of God.  “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” In John, the Son's moment of glory comes when he fully reveals God's love by laying down his life for his followers (see John 10:14‑18; 12:23‑26). God's intention in sending the Son into the world is not condemnation, but salvation. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Tragically, those who turn from the revelation of God's love have already condemned themselves by refusing to share in that love. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

PENTECOST

Pentecost Sunday A B C

Readings: Acts 2:1-11 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13   John 20:19-23

“Lord send out your spirit, and renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104).  In remembering the first Christian Pentecost, we fervently pray in the refrain of the responsorial psalm that God’s Holy Spirit renew the world and the church with the gifts of unity, peace, joy and forgiveness.
The Acts reading describes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples at the Jewish pilgrimage feast of Pentecost (Shavuoth) in fulfillment of prophetic expectations of the final age when all the nations will know the God of Israel.  Isaiah 66 speaks of God’s coming in the following way: “For behold the Lord will come as a fire . . . with a flame of fire . . . I am coming to gather all the nations and tongues” (Is 66:15.18).  As Peter will affirm in his Pentecost sermon, the prophet Joel announced: “God says: ‘It will come to pass in the last days,/ that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh’” (Acts 2:17).  Luke’s account of Pentecost has all of these elements.  The Spirit descends upon the gathered group of one hundred and twenty would-be witnesses to Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension with a noise “like a strong driving wind.”  Tongues “as of fire” part and rest on each of them, and the Holy Spirit enables them to speak in different languages to Jewish pilgrims from most of the known world.  In a symbolic reversal of the confusion of tongues at the tower of Babel incident (Genesis11), the disciples speak in understandable languages of “the mighty works of God.”  As Peter will proclaim in his Pentecost sermon, Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension have begun the final age when all are called to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:14-41).
In the reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul insists that the Holy Spirit’s various gifts are meant for the common good of the community and for the unity of what were previously divided groups.  In Corinth some were using the possession of spectacular gifts like tongues as a basis for claiming superiority within the community.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that one Spirit gives various gifts--wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working miracles, prophecy, tongues and interpreting tongues--for the building up of the whole community, and not for the exaltation of the individual (12:4-11).  He also uses the body of Christ metaphor to express the interdependence of all members--Jews or Greeks, slave or free--upon one another because they share a common baptism “into one body.”


The Gospel selection is John’s account of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles on Easter night.  John places all the key saving events--the Resurrection, the ascent to the Father and the bestowal of the Spirit--on Easter (John 20:1-23).  When Jesus appears to the disciples on the evening of that first day of the week, he has already ascended to the Father as he had announced to Mary Magdalene (John 20:17).  He can now give them the gifts he had promised in the farewell discourse: peace, joy, and the Spirit/Paraclete (John 14-17).  Twice he greets the apostles with “Peace be with you” (cf. John 14:27).  When they see his hands and his side as proof that he was crucified and has now returned to the Father, the disciples experience the joy that Jesus had promised them (cf. 16:20-24).  Finally, Jesus sends them into the world as he was sent by the Father.  He breathes on them and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”  As God “breathed” life into Adam in Genesis, Jesus is recreating the community of disciples with the life of God’s forgiving love.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Here is a "TWOFER" - Ascension and Easter VII

The Ascension A

Readings: Acts 1:1-11   Ephesians 1:17-23     Matthew 28:16-20

            The Feast of the Ascension celebrates both the resurrected Jesus’ triumph over the power of sin and evil by his ascension to the right hand of the Father and also the apostles’ mission, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to witness to Christ’s victory throughout the world.  Let us rejoice in Jesus’ enthronement in the words of the refrain of our responsorial psalm: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy;/ a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Ps 48).
            The account of Jesus’ ascension in the first reading comes from the introduction to Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles.  As with his gospel, Luke addresses Acts to Theophilus (“lover of God”).  He recapitulates the events of the Gospel with special emphasis on Jesus’ commissioning the apostles to wait in Jerusalem to receive the power of the Holy Spirit who will send them as his witnesses to the whole world.  In his summary of the Gospel Luke recalls Jesus’ actions and teachings until his ascension, his choice the apostles, his suffering and death, his resurrection appearances over a forty day period in which he spoke of the kingdom of God and proved that he was alive, and his command not to depart from Jerusalem, but to await the Father’s promise of their baptism with the Holy Spirit.  He prefaces his second account of the ascension (see Luke 24:50-53) with a dialogue between the apostles and Jesus at their last meeting.  They ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  But Jesus says that it is not for them to know “the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority.”  Instead he promises: “. . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Then like Elijah in 2 Kings 2 and certain traditions associated with Moses, Jesus is “lifted up, and a cloud takes him from their sight.”  For Luke this is Jesus’ enthronement as the triumphant Messiah and Son of Man at God’s right hand (cf. Dan 7:13 and Luke 1:32; Acts 2:22-36; 7:56).  His exodus or departure has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning (cf. Luke 9:28-36; 9:51).  Like the prophets Moses and Elijah who appeared with him in glory at the transfiguration to talk of his exodus (9:28-36), Jesus must leave physically for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on his successors who will carry on his work (see Deuteronomy 34 and 2 Kings 2).  The “two men dressed in white garments” who stand beside the apostles as they witness the ascension may be Moses and Elijah (cf. Luke 9:28-36; 24:1-8).  They do not allow the apostles to gawk at Jesus’ ascension, but rather assure them of his return as the Messiah/Son of Man who will establish his kingdom after their work of witnessing to him throughout the earth. 
            The Epistle reading is taken from the thanksgiving section of Ephesians in which the Pauline author prays that God, through the resurrected and ascended Christ, will give the Christian community, his body on earth, “a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”  In Christ’s resurrection from the dead, ascension, and enthronement at his right hand, God has defeated the powers of evil that formerly rule the world—“every principality, authority, power, and dominion and every name that is named.”  God has put all things beneath Christ’s feet and given him “as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.”  Paul’s prayer is that the Christian community will have the eyes of their hearts enlightened by the risen and triumphant Christ so that they know “the hope that belongs to his (God the Father’s) call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
            The Gospel reading of the commissioning of the disciples is the conclusion of Matthew and completes the main themes of the entire Gospel.  As the triumphant Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7), the risen Jesus appears to the eleven disciples who have gone to Galilee, as Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had told them (Matt 28:9-10; cf. 26:32).  When the disciples see him in his glory, they worship, but also are filled with doubt.  Jesus then approaches them and assures them that he has triumphed over death and is now risen as the victorious Son of Man as he had repeatedly announced (Matt 16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 24:1-51; 25:31-46; 26:63-64).  In Matthew’s Gospel the period between Jesus’ resurrection and his triumphant return as Son of Man in judgment is a time for the gospel to be carried by his disciples to all the nations (24:14).  They are the emissaries of Jesus; to receive them is to receive him and the Father who sent him (10:40-42; 18:1-5; 25:31-46).  Jesus has prepared them for this mission by his teaching in the five great discourses throughout the Gospel (5:1-7:29; 10:1-11:1; 13:1-53; 18:1-35; 23:1-25:46).  Now he commissions them to make disciples of all nations, by “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit” and by teaching them to observe all that he has commanded them.  Jesus, who is Immanuel, “God with us” (1:21-22), concludes by assuring them of his presence with them in this mission until his return in glory: “and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”




7th Sunday of Easter A

Readings: Acts 1:12‑14  1 Peter 4:13‑16  John 17:1‑11

            On this Sunday between the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, the Church prepares us for the coming of the Spirit and the task of witnessing to the gospel in the world.   Let us wait in confident hope for the coming of the Spirit as we sing the refrain of this Sunday's responsorial psalm: "I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps 27).
            The reading from Acts describes the early community's prayerful actions immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven.  Before his ascension Jesus had instructed the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me  speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will  be baptized with the holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4‑5; see Lk 24:49).  So now after witnessing Jesus' ascension on Mount Olivet, the apostles return to Jerusalem and go to the upper room to await the gift of the Spirit. While they are waiting, Luke tells us the apostles "devoted themselves to constant prayer."  Luke also emphasizes the prayer of  Jesus at key points in his ministry: before his baptism (3:12),  before calling the twelve (6:12), before asking his disciples  whether they believe in him (9:18), before the transfiguration  (9:28), before teaching the Our Father (11:2), in the Garden when  he accepts his Father's will (22:41), and on the cross as he commends his spirit to the Father (23:46).  In imitation of their master, the disciples devote themselves to prayer as they await the Spirit. 
            Luke also highlights the presence of other important people from Jesus' ministry besides the apostles.  He mentions the women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  In Luke's gospel the women are an important part of Jesus' missionary band from the beginning (8:1‑3).  They remain faithful to Jesus through his death (23:49) and burial (23:55‑56).  They are also the ones who first discover the empty tomb when they come to anoint Jesus' body, and they are the first to announce the resurrection to the twelve (24:1‑12).  Mary also has a special prominence in Luke's gospel.  She might be called the first disciple because she hears and does the word of God (see Lk 1:26‑38; 2:19,51; 2:34f.; 8:21; 11:27f.).  Finally, the brothers of Jesus are important, especially James who will have a key leadership role in the Jerusalem community (see Lk 8:19‑21; Acts 15:13‑29).
            The reading from 1 Peter gives advice to those who are suffering persecution because of their Christian faith.  Peter distinguishes between two types of suffering.  If Christians "are insulted for the sake of Christ," they should rejoice in the knowledge that they "share Christ's suffering" and that "God's Spirit in its glory has come to rest on" them.  But if they suffer for being murderers, thieves, malefactors, or destroyers of others rights, they only are paying the deserved punishment for their crimes.


            The Gospel reading from the end of the Farewell Discourse in John features Jesus’ prayer for his disciples whom he is leaving in the world.  Jesus has come to his hour of glory when he is to return to the Father by being lifted up on the cross as the ultimate sign of God's love for the world.  In the first part of the prayer Jesus asks that the Father “glorify” him.  He has completed his "work" by giving the Father glory on the earth, that is, by revealing his love.  Now Jesus asks the Father, “give me glory at your side, a glory I had with you before the world began.” In the second part of the prayer Jesus prays for the disciples whom he is leaving behind in the world.  He begins by praising them.  They were given to him by the Father; they have kept the Father's word; they realize that Jesus has come from God and have received this message of truth.  All of this can be summarized by saying that they have "eternal life" because they “know . . . the only true God” and “Jesus Christ” whom he sent.   The word “know” here has the Semitic sense of intimacy, of sharing a common life.  On the basis of this shared life, Jesus can say to the Father, “For these I pray‑‑ not for the world but for these you have given me, for they are really yours.”

Monday, May 15, 2017

Easter VI A

6th Sunday of Easter A

Readings: Acts 8:5‑8,14‑17  1 Peter 3:15‑18  John 14:15‑21

            On the last Sundays of the Easter season, the readings begin to prepare us for Jesus' Ascension and the gift of the Spirit on Pentecost.  In today's Gospel from the farewell discourse in John, Jesus promises his disciples that he will not leave them orphaned after he departs from the world.   He will send them the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will enable them to witness to the gospel in a hostile world.  The first two readings speak of the heroic witness of disciples in the early Church.  As we hear of the spread of the gospel through their testimony, let us join all creation in praising God with the refrain of today's responsorial psalm: "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!" (Ps 66).    
            The reading from Acts recounts the spread of the gospel message to Samaria through the ministry of Philip, one of the deacons chosen in last week's reading.  In the previous section of Acts, Luke recounts the death of Stephen and the subsequent violent persecution of the Church in Jerusalem by Saul of Tarsus and others.  This opposition does not stop the spread of the gospel but only furthers its growth.  When the disciples are scattered into Judea and Samaria, they begin to preach the gospel in these areas.  Philip's courageous and powerful ministry culminates with the Samaritans receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit that had first been poured out in Jerusalem on Pentecost.  He proclaims the Messiah and works numerous miracles which bring "the rejoicing in that town to a fever pitch."  Once the Samaritans have accepted the word of God and been baptized in the name of Jesus, Peter and John come from Jerusalem and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit through prayer and the imposition of hands.    
            The 1 Peter reading is from a section of the letter in which Peter is warning his readers that, because they live in a pagan world, they may have to suffer for the sake of the gospel.   In the verses immediately prior to today's reading he reminds them: “But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”
            The remainder of Peter's advice is still relevant for us as we attempt to live the Christian gospel in a secular world.  First of all, Christians should be ready to articulate their beliefs and give "the reason for their hope," not in a strident and offensive way, but "gently and respectfully." Secondly, Christians should be moral citizens who do not bring libel on the community by their lives.  Peter commands them to keep "your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame."  Christians may have to suffer for "doing good," but suffering punishment for evil crimes brings no credit to the community.  Only those who suffer for good deeds are following Christ, "a just man" who died "for the sake of the unjust.”

            The Gospel reading from John continues the theme of being faithful to Jesus' teachings in a hostile world.  As Jesus prepares to depart from this world, he promises his disciples that, if they love him and keep his command to love one another, he will give them "another Paraclete" to be always with them.   This is John's special term for the Holy Spirit; it is sometimes translated as "Advocate," one who is called to someone's aid as a "counselor" or "defender" in a trial.  Although the disciples will be left in a hostile world that cannot accept "the Spirit of truth," they will have the Paraclete with them. 

            In the last section of today's Gospel, Jesus goes on to promise that, after he has returned to the Father, he too will come back to his disciples and give them a share in the life of love that he and the Father have. "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. . . . On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.  Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.  And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him."