MAY 13TH, 2018: SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers
—there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons
in the one place —.
He said, “My brothers,
the Scripture had to be fulfilled
which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand
through the mouth of David, concerning Judas,
who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
He was numbered among us
and was allotted a share in this ministry.
“For it is written in the Book of Psalms:
May another take his office.
“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men
who accompanied us the whole time
the Lord Jesus came and went among us,
beginning from the baptism of John
until the day on which he was taken up from us,
become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
So they proposed two, Judas called Barsabbas,
who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.
Then they prayed,
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this apostolic ministry
from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the eleven apostles.
Beloved, if God so loved us,
we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection in us.
This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us,
that he has given us of his Spirit.
Moreover, we have seen and testify
that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.
Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God,
God remains in him and he in God.
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.
Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me,
so that they may be one just as we are one.
When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,
and I guarded them, and none of them was lost
except the son of destruction,
in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
But now I am coming to you.
I speak this in the world
so that they may share my joy completely.
I gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them,
so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”
I often mention that today’s John 17 gospel pericope was always proclaimed on a very solemn occasion in one of the seminaries I attended: immediately after priestly ordinations, just before the meal commemorating that happy event. In that non-biblical context, we (men) automatically bought into the introduction the lector gave this passage: “Jesus’ prayer for his newly ordained priests.” The “them” about whom the gospel Jesus was speaking could only be priests, no one else need apply.
It’s difficult for us who grew up with the idea that the Roman Catholic priesthood has always been essential to our faith to admit that particular institution is just as frequently found in Scripture as are electric lights. The priesthood, as we know it, won’t evolve until long after the biblical period. It’s a shame that a gospel prayer originally intended for all Jesus’ followers was eventually limited to just a small portion of those people.
When, during the Last Supper, John’s Jesus speaks about those to whom “he gave his word,” who he prays “will be kept from the evil one,” who he’s convinced “are in the world, but not of the world,” he’s not referring to individuals who have received priestly ordination, but to those who have been baptized, everyone who’s determined to carry on his ministry. In a world without clergy and laity, he can’t be referring to anyone else.
John’s main purpose in this pericope is to remind his community of how unique it is to be a disciple of the risen Jesus. Like himself/herself, they’re “new creations.” Not only can’t they judge themselves by anyone else’s standards, they have to be prepared for a ministry unlike any other. Among other things, as other Christs they have to anticipate the same problems the first Christ experienced. They’ll frequently find themselves in a world which hates them, simply because they’re carrying on his ministry. “As you sent them into the world,” he states, “so I sent them into the world.” It won’t take long to discover they, like Jesus, are committed to a different value system than a lot of the people around them.
Why doesn’t he get them quickly out of their misery and take them immediately into heaven? The answer’s simple: if they don’t hang in there and endure the pain, nothing in this world is ever going to change for the better. The Father didn’t rescue him, why should he rescue them? He can only guarantee his community that his care of them will be just as unique as they are.
Luke is also convinced that Jesus’ followers are carrying on his ministry. Though those who chose our liturgical readings have conveniently left out Acts’ contradictory account of Judas’ death, it’s still important he be replaced. Luke’s convinced the Twelve must be intact when the Spirit arrives on Pentecost. (Notice the next member of the Twelve who dies isn’t replaced. Once the Holy Spirit is in charge, we no longer need the Twelve. The community’s in the Spirit’s hands.)
The exceptional care Jesus has for his followers is driven by one basic principle: “If God so loved us, we also must love one another.” The author of I John couldn’t be clearer. “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.” We have one basic mission in life: to love others.
We who’ve stratified our world by splitting it between clergy and laity are called by the risen Jesus to get rid of that nonsense and return to his faith. His world is populated only with those who love and those who don’t love. If we can’t pull that off, we’re really not “his.” Especially embarrassing for those, I would think, who are the monsignors among us.