Monday, June 18, 2018

The Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24)


The Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) 

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-6  Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26 
 Luke 1:57-66, 80

This solemnity, celebrating the birth of the great prophetic precursor to Jesus, highlights God’s wondrous plan of salvation: the promises made to our Jewish ancestors in the Old Testament and John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of Jesus, the long-awaited savior from the line of David, who fulfills the promises to Abraham.  The great agents of God’s plan-- the servant/Israel in the Book of Isaiah, John, and Jesus himself-- are called from birth, from their mother’s wombs, to fulfill God’s purposes.  With the servant, John, and Jesus, let us praise the Lord for his saving guidance in the words of our responsorial psalm: “I praise you for I am wonderfully made” (Ps 139).
In the first reading, the prophet, living in exile in Babylon, takes on the persona of the servant/Israel and gives a first person report of Israel’s coming to a new understanding of its vocation as a people.  Calling the “coastlands” to “hear,” the prophet reviews the birth and call of the nation. “The Lord called me from birth/ from my mother’s womb he gave me my name/. . . You are my servant, he said to me,/ Israel, through whom I show my glory.” Although the servant thought that he had toiled in vain (the experience of the exile), now he is suddenly aware that he has been recompensed by God (the unexpected, glorious return to the land).  In this great moment in the Lord’s saving plan, servant Israel is given a double vocation: to restore Israel through repentance and to be a light to the nations of the earth by witnessing to the Lord’s powerful action in bringing the nation home from exile. “For now the Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb,/ that Jacob may be brought back to him/ and Israel gathered to him/ . . . It is too little, he says for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob,/ . . . I will make you a light to the nations,/ that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
The reading from Acts is Luke’s account of Paul’s first sermon in the synagogues at Antioch in Pisidia.  He proclaims God’s offer of salvation through Jesus to the descendants of Abraham and God-fearers (Gentiles who believe in God).  Paul affirms the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus, the savior from the line of David.  John’s role in this plan was twofold: to herald Jesus’ coming “by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel,” and, after he had completed his course, to proclaim the greatness of Jesus, the savior:  “. . . as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am?  I am not he.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten  the sandals of his feet.’”
In Luke’s wonder-filled account of John’s nativity he gives us both the joyous story of the birth of a child to a pious, barren old couple, but more importantly the first fulfillment of one of his prophecies (cf. Lk 1:5-23) about the arrival of the long-awaited Messianic age.  Interestingly, Luke also introduces the theme of human resistance to God’s plan which will run throughout his Gospel and Acts. When the time arrives for Elizabeth to have her son, the neighbors and relatives “rejoice with her” because “the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her”, but at the circumcision when it is time to name the child, they want to name him Zechariah after his father and resist when Elizabeth insists his name shall be John, “the Lord is gracious,” the name that Gabriel said was to be given to him (Lk 1:13). When they turn to Zechariah, he asks for a tablet and writes, “John is his name.”  The account concludes with portentous anticipation.  The relatives are amazed as Zechariah’s dumb tongue is loosed and he blesses God (read his Benedictus in 1:68-79) which causes fear to come upon all their neighbors.  Throughout the hill country of Judea, all who hear of these things are saying, “What, then, will this child be?  For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”  Luke’s concluding verse gives us the sense that we are entering the story of “the things that have been accomplished among us” (1:1).  “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

11th Sunday B


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24    2 Corinthians 5:6-10     Mark 4:26-34

            This Sunday’s readings use striking plant and animal images to express our Christian hope in the ultimate triumph of the Lord’s kingdom despite the smallness and apparent impossibility of present circumstances.  Let us in faith and gratitude embrace the Lord’s fidelity to his promises in the lyrics of our responsorial psalm: “They that are planted in the house of the Lord/ shall flourish in the court of our God” (Ps 92:14)
            In the Old Testament reading the prophet Ezekiel, who is living in exile in Babylon, encourages his troubled fellow exiles with a vision of the Lord God’s promise to establish his Messianic kingdom using the image of planting “a tender shoot” of the cedar “on a high and lofty mountain;/ on the mountain heights of Israel” where “it shall put forth branches and bear fruit/ and become a majestic cedar.”  In the first part of chapter 17 Ezekiel fashions an elaborate allegory of eagles and cedars to describe the Lord’s decision to exile his people because of the infidelity of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, to his solemn covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (17:1-21).  But now the prophet assures the exiles of their return home and the Lord’s intention to establish a universal kingdom of peace where “Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it (the majestic cedar).”  As a consequence of the Lord’s saving actions, the prophet proclaims that all nations will come to know that the Lord’s word providentially guides all of history by punishing the proud and raising up the lowly.  “And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord,/ Bring low the high tree,/ lift high the lowly tree,/ Wither up the green tree,/ and make the withered tree bloom.”
            In the Epistle reading Paul continues the theme of hope as he meditates on the tension in his apostolic ministry between continuing to “dwell in the  body” while “away from the Lord” and being “away from the body and at home with the Lord.”  Although Paul would prefer to go to his home with the Lord, he knows that the demands of his apostolic mission mean that he must continue to “walk by faith, not by sight” but in the full “confidence” that the integrity of his work in the body, and indeed “the lives of all”, will “be revealed before the tribunal of Christ.”  
            The Gospel contains the two parables—the seed growing secretly and the mustard seed which conclude Mark’s account of Jesus’ parables (4:1-34).  Both are parables about “the reign of God” and contain sharp contrasts between small or insignificant beginnings and great, abundant endings.  They must be related to the future outcome of the reign of God that is beginning in the events of Jesus’ ministry in Mark.  Despite Jesus’ authoritative teaching and powerful miracles and exorcisms proclaiming the arrival of the reign of God, he has also met hostile opposition from the scribes and Pharisees which will culminate in his death on the cross (cf. 3:6).  The Kingdom has made only small beginnings at this point, as Jesus has gathered a band of twelve disciples to share in his mission preaching the arrival of the kingdom and driving out demons (3:13-19). 
            Both parables feature the mysterious inevitability of the triumph of God’s kingdom.  In the parable of the seed growing secretly a man simply scatters seed on the ground and then goes about his daily activities of rest and rising.  Through it all “the seed sprouts and grows without his knowing how it happens.”  The soil, not the man, “produces of itself first the blade, then the ear, finally the ripe wheat in the ear.”  Only when the crop is ready does he wield the sickle for the harvest.  Likewise, the mustard seed “is the smallest of all the earth’s seeds,” but when it is sown it becomes “the largest of shrubs” and, like the image of the mighty cedar in Ezekiel, its branches are large enough “for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade.” 
Jesus’ parables may even be a lampoon of the extravagant political expectations associated with the arrival of the Messiah.  Instead of “a majestic cedar” who rules over the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus is a Messiah who begins the kingdom by healing the sick, calling the outcast, gathering a small band of peasant disciples, and causing opposition from the official leaders.  He is a Messiah who is destined to be rejected and die on the cross.  But, despite these scattered and small beginnings, paradoxically the kingdom of God is underway and will inevitably triumph just as the harvest follows the scattering of seed and a large mustard shrub comes from “the smallest of all the earth’s seeds.”  Mark notes at the end of our reading that Jesus spoke to the crowd “only by way of parable, while he kept explaining things privately to his disciples.”  The disciples’ task to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ Messianic mission.  As Mark’s gospel continues we will see that they often fail to understand and even abandon Jesus at the hour of his arrest.  But even to these cowardly disciples the message of Jesus’ parables is that the time will come for the harvest and the small mustard seed will “become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Into "green" time - 10th Sunday OTB


10th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Genesis 3:9-15  2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1  Mark 3:20-35

            This Sunday’s readings confront us with the harsh reality of the battle between good and evil, but they also assure us of the Lord God’s merciful victory over the power of Satan and sin.  Let us pray with faith the words of the refrain to our responsorial psalm: “With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption” (Ps 130).
            The Genesis reading recounts the Lord God’s searching out Adam and Eve after they have eaten of the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.  Rather than abandoning them in their sin, shame and hiding, the Lord God asks Adam, “Where are you?”  This is not simply a question concerning his physical location but one about his existential condition now that he has sinned.  It is addressed to all of us in our choice of selfishness and sin.  Adam’s answer reflects the telltale signs of the alienation brought on by sin: “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.”  Adam and Eve’s attempt to become “like the gods knowing good and evil” (3:5) has only brought them fear and shame and caused them to hid from the Lord God.  In an attempt to get Adam to accept responsibility for his sin, the Lord asks, “Who told you that you were naked?  You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I have forbidden you to eat!”  Rather than taking full responsibility for his deed, Adam feebly blames Eve and even the Lord God for his sin: “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”  Likewise, when the woman is asked by the Lord God, “Why did you do such a thing?” she blames the serpent: “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”
            Our reading concludes with the first of three punishments the Lord pronounces on the serpent, the woman and the man (3:14-19).  The serpent as “the most cunning of all the animals the Lord God had made” (3:1) had earlier tempted the woman into sin by suggesting that God had forbidden the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil out of divine jealousy: “You certainly will not die!  No, God knows that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”  Now the Lord God punishes the serpent to “be banned from all the animals” and crawl on his belly and eat dirt “all the days of (his) life.”  The conclusion of the serpent’s sentence speaks of the ongoing enmity between his offspring and that of the woman.  Christian tradition has called this the Proto-evangelium, the first good news of the victory of Christ over Satan who will undo the sin of Adam by his obedience to the Father’s will. “I will put enmity between you and the woman,/ and between your offspring and hers;/ he will strike at your head,/ while you strike at his heel.”   
            In the Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians Paul is defending the integrity of his apparently suffering apostolic ministry against those who claim a gospel of glory only.  Paul insists that his gospel is rooted in “that spirit of faith” which believes that God will overcome present weakness and suffering through the power of Jesus’ resurrection which is at work in the spread of the gospel.  “We believe and so we speak, knowing that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up along with Jesus and place both us and you in his presence.”  Because of his resurrection faith Paul makes a contrast between the inner working of faith which leads to eternal glory and the visible appearance of present suffering and trial.  “We do not lose heart because your inner being is renewed each day, even though our body is being destroyed at the same time.  The present burden of our trial is light enough and earns for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. . . . We know that when the earthly tent in which we dwell is destroyed we have a dwelling provided for us by God, a dwelling in the heavens, not made by hands, but to last forever.”    
            The Gospel presents Jesus in mortal combat against Satan and the power of evil in the face of the disbelief on the part of his family and open hostility from the Jerusalem scribes.  In the early chapters of Mark Jesus has made the kingdom of God present and thereby plundered the kingdom of Satan through numerous exorcisms and healings.  But his forgiveness of sins, failure to fast and violation of the Sabbath in order to heal have also brought opposition from scribes, Pharisees, and Herodians who are now taking counsel to put him to death (1:21-3:12).  Jesus has just summoned his twelve disciples and appointed them to share his mission of preaching and driving out demons (3:13-19), but now as he returns home, his own family thinks “He is out of his mind” (3:20-21) and the scribes from Jerusalem accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebul and working his miracles by the power of the prince of demons (3:22).  Jesus defends himself in parables by asking “How can Satan expel Satan?”  If indeed Jesus is working miracles by the power of Satan, then Satan has a rebel in his ranks and his kingdom and household are divided and will not long endure.  Jesus then asserts that he has “bound” the strong man (Satan) and like a thief is plundering his house.  He concludes by solemnly stating that his learned opponents have committed the one unforgiveable sin.  The Holy Spirit of God has been active in Jesus exorcisms and healings, and they have blasphemed against it by saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
The conclusion of today’s Gospel asserts that the proper relation to Jesus is not based on intellectual credentials (the scribes) or family ties but on following Jesus and doing the will of God.  In a favorite literary technique Mark now returns to the arrival of his family (3:31-35; cf. 3:20-21).  When the crowd informs him that his mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for him, Jesus says to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and as he looks to those in the circle around him, he proclaims, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.”   May we too be included in Jesus’ true family by doing the will of the Father in the battle against evil.     

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ B

Readings: Exodus 24:3-8  Hebrews 9:11-15 
 Mark 14:12-16,22-26

The readings for the feast of Corpus Christi in the B cycle present the Eucharist as the new covenant sealed in the blood of Christ.  Appropriately, the refrain for the responsorial psalm is: “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps 116:13).  Because of the attention given to the blood of the covenant in all of the readings, this is an excellent time for the entire congregation to be given the opportunity to receive the cup as well as the Eucharistic bread.
The Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus is the account of Moses’ sealing the covenant between the Lord and Israel on Mount Sinai.  This covenant ceremony demonstrates that Israel was a unique community in the ancient world in that the basis for its unity was not a common political overlord, but the free choice to serve the Lord by identifying with his gracious deliverance in the Exodus and by pledging to obey his covenant will.  Twice, when Moses reads aloud the stipulations of the covenant, the Israelites respond: “We will do everything that the Lord has told us.”
The blood of the young bulls which seals the covenant symbolizes the shared bond of life between the Lord and his people.  Like many ancient peoples, the Israelites understood blood to contain life (see Deut 12:23).  When Moses splashes half the blood on the altar and sprinkles the other half on the people, he is binding the Lord and his people in a common life; they have become one in a union of wills.  The Lord and Israel form a single family, a communion of life.
The Hebrews reading recounts Christ’s mediating through his own blood the new covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah (see Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:7-13).  In contrast to the rituals of the first covenant which were performed repeatedly using animal blood in an earthly sanctuary, Christ has entered the heavenly sanctuary once for all with his own blood.  His unblemished sacrifice brings an inner cleansing of the conscience which the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant could never accomplish.
Mark’s account of the Last Supper also stresses the sacrificial character of the Eucharist.  Jesus identifies the bread and wine of the Passover meal with his own imminent death and interprets them in light of both the covenant traditions in the Exodus 24 reading and the suffering servant songs of Isaiah which speak of the servant’s death bringing the forgiveness of the sins “of the many” (Isaiah 53:12).  According to Mark, Jesus has carefully arranged ahead of time for this last Passover meal with his disciples.  This gives the celebration the character of both remembering the past saving events of the Exodus and the blood of the Passover lamb which marked the homes of the Israelites and saved them from the angel of death, while at the same time looking forward to Jesus’ death and the final Messianic banquet.  Jesus concludes the meal by saying: “I solemnly assure you I will never again drink of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the reign of God.”

The central elements in the meal are, of course, Jesus’ actions and words in connection with the bread and wine used in the Passover celebration.  After taking bread, blessing and breaking it, he simply says: “Take, this is my body.”  The disciples are invited to share in Jesus’ sacrificial death which will be realized on the next day.  Jesus’ actions and words in connection with the cup allude directly to the traditions in both Exodus 24 and Isaiah 53:12. “He likewise took a cup,gave thanks and passed it to them,and they all drank from it. He said to them: ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many.’”
On this feast of Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ we remember the saving death of Jesus whose blood sealed a new covenant bond with God and brought forgiveness of sins.  What better way to celebrate than by having the whole assembly share in this saving blood by drinking from the Eucharistic cup?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Trinity Sunday B


Trinity Sunday B

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40  Romans 8:14-17 
 Matthew 28:16-20

            The readings for the feast of the Most Holy Trinity in the B cycle proclaim the triune God’s wonderful gifts to his people both in the Old Testament through the deliverance of his people from Egypt and the revelation of the Torah and in the New Testament through Christ who has made us heirs with him and sent us into the world to make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.”  Let us rejoice in our privilege as adopted children of God in Christ by singing the refrain of this Sunday’s responsorial psalm: “Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own” (Ps 34).
            In the Deuteronomy reading Moses, who is about to die without entering the promised land,  asks the Israelites who are to go into the land of Canaan to remember the Lord’s unique revelation and wonderful saving actions for them.  First of all he reminds them of the Lord’s giving the Torah on Mount Horeb/Sinai.  Moses asks the Israelites to recall if since the time God created humans upon earth, “did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live?”  Secondly, he recollects the wonders the Lord worked in saving them from slavery in Egypt.  “Or did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, with strong hand and outstretched arms, and by great terrors, all of which the Lord, your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?”  Moses concludes by stating two obligations that flow from the Lord’s saving actions: the Israelites must know and fix in their hearts that the Lord alone is God and they and their children must keep his commandments so that they may prosper in the land that the Lord is giving them.
            In the Epistle reading from the Letter to the Romans Paul is proclaiming the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection on Christian believers.  The passage expresses Paul’s Trinitarian theology which is closely tied to what God the Father has done in saving humanity through the death and resurrection of Christ, the Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without Christ’s victory over Sin and Death all humans were slaves to the flesh, the sinful lower instincts that turn us away from God.  But now with Christ’s saving death and resurrection, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all creation and has remade believers into adopted “sons of God.”  Christians now stand in a new relation to God, the Father.  They are not to be slaves who live in fear of God, but adopted children who dare to cry out to God “Abba, Father!” Paul concludes by reminding his Roman Christian readers that they have the gift of God’s Spirit which bears witness that in their present condition they are children and joint heirs with Christ to God’s kingdom provided they suffer with him until Christ’s triumphant return. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of god, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him, so that we may be glorified with him.”               
            The Gospel is the conclusion of Matthew which completes the main themes of the entire Gospel.  As the triumphant Son of Man (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 triumphant Son of Man as he had repeatedly announced in the earlier chapters of the Gospel (Matt 16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19; 24:1-51; 25:31-46; 26:63-64).  In Matthew the period between Jesus’ resurrection and his triumphant return as the Son of Man in judgment is a time for the gospel to be carried by the disciples to all the nations (24:14).  They are the emissaries of Jesus; to receive them is to receive Jesus and the Father who sent him (10:40-42; 18:1-5; 25:31-46).  Jesus has prepared them for this mission by his teachings in five long 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 he has commanded them.  Jesus, who is Emmanuel, 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.” 
            As we carry on this great commission in the 21st century, let us recommit ourselves to being willing to suffer with Christ for the sake of the gospel in the assurance that we have with us the abiding presence of the Triune God: Father, Son and Spirit, who will bring his saving work to completion.

Monday, May 14, 2018

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 7, 2018

Easter VII B


7th Sunday of Easter B

Readings:  Acts 1:15-17,20-26  1 John 4:11-16  John 17:11-19

The readings for this last Sunday of the Easter season prepare the disciples for the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost who will send them into a hostile world.  In the gospel selection, Jesus prays to his Father: “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
The reading from Acts recounts the choice of Matthias to replace Judas as a member of the twelve who had been chosen by Jesus to renew the twelve tribes of Israel (see Luke 6:12-16; 22:24-30) and to witness to his resurrection (Luke 24:44-49).  Before the descent of the Spirit, this important symbolic group must be reconstituted.  Judas’ betrayal is a sobering reminder that the power of evil had penetrated into the very heart of Jesus’ apostolic band.  Peter reminds the group of approximately 120 who are gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem: “He (Judas) was one of our number and had been given a share in this ministry of ours” (Acts 1:17).  Luke understands Judas’ betrayal as due to the power of Satan (Luke 22:3) and as part of Jesus’ destiny in fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by David in Psalm 41:10: “Even my friend who had my trust/ and partook of my bread/ has raised his hand against me.”  At the last supper in Luke, Jesus had announced: “And yet behold, the hand of the one who is to betray me is with me on the table; for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed” (22:21-22).  Now Peter, continuing to follow the divine plan marked out in the psalms, quotes Psalm 109:8, “May another take his office,” and suggests that one of those who has been in the Jesus’ company from the baptism of John to the ascension “should be named as witness with us to his resurrection.”  Two men meet these qualifications: Joseph, called Barsabbas/Justus, and Matthias.  The community prayerfully leaves the final choice to God, and the lot falls to Matthias.

The second reading from 1 John continues last week’s epistle reading and addresses the most important question of how we can know if “we remain in” God.  This was vital concern for John’s church which had been rent by secession over how to understand Christ.  Some apparently thought the verbal confession that “Jesus is the Son of God” was enough.  John’s answer is at once simple and profound.  “Beloved, if God has loved us so (in Jesus’ death on the cross), we must have the same love for one another.”  In John’s theology God’s gift of the Spirit is the power to share in the very love of God.  Because we have not seen God, we can only demonstrate that God dwells in us by having love for one another.  This brings to perfection God’s love in us.  In 1 John’s unsurpassable words: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”       
The Gospel is Jesus’ prayer for his disciples at the conclusion of his farewell discourse in John.  As he is about to depart to his Father, Jesus prays for two things: that the disciples be protected from “the evil one” and that they be consecrated in God’s word of love which is “truth.” Jesus’ language in this prayer is coded in key terms of Johannine theology.  He prays that the Father “protect them with your name which you have given me.”  God’s name, “I Am,” is repeatedly used by Jesus in John (see 6:22-66; 8:12-59; 10:1-21; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1-17; 18:5-6).  In John’s theology, this name reveals the unity of the Father and Son as the source of life and unity for all who come in faith to Jesus, the revelation of the Father’s love.  Jesus says to the Father, “I guarded them with your name which you gave me.”  The only one who was lost was Judas, “who was destined to be lost in fulfillment of Scripture.”  Now Jesus prays that the Father continue to protect the disciples “from the evil one” in a world opposed to the truth of God’s love.  As he sends his disciples into this hostile world, Jesus consecrates himself for their sakes by submitting to his Father’s plan by laying down his life.  As we await the descent of the Spirit on Pentecost and the renewal of its mission to the world, Jesus assures us of the Father’s loving protection and consecrates us to live the truth of God’s love in him. “Consecrate them by means of truth—‘Your word is truth.’ As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world; I consecrate myself for their sakes now,that they may be consecrated in truth.”