MAY 28TH, 2017: SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
After Jesus had been taken up to heaven the apostles
returned to Jerusalem
from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem,
a sabbath day's journey away.
When they entered the city
they went to the upper room where they were staying,
Peter and John and James and Andrew,
Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew,
James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot,
and Judas son of James.
All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer,
together with some women,
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ,
so that when his glory is revealed
you may also rejoice exultantly.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
But let no one among you be made to suffer
as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.
But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed
but glorify God because of the name.
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
"Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.
Now this is eternal life,
that they should know you, the only true God,
and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
I glorified you on earth
by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.
Now glorify me, Father, with you,
with the glory that I had with you before the world began.
"I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world.
They belonged to you, and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
because the words you gave to me I have given to them,
and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you,
and they have believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."
Today’s liturgical readings seem to have been chosen precisely to prepare us for next Sunday’s feast of Pentecost.
Among other things, our Christian sacred authors want their readers to understand that Jesus of Nazareth not only expects his followers to carry on his ministry, but that they’re actually doing so.
That’s why, for instance, Luke, in our Acts pericope, names many of the individuals who will be in Jerusalem’s upper room when the Spirit comes. It’s a scene similar to the ending of the Broadway musical and movie 1776, when the names of all the Declaration of Independence’s signers are dramatically read off. In this case, these are the people who will initially make up the biblical church; a community which comes into existence only when the Holy Spirit arrives. (It’s important to note that Luke dares include Mary and “some women” in that list!) Along with Paul of Tarsus and a few others, they’ll continue Jesus’ ministry throughout the Acts of the Apostles.
That’s also why, during John’s last supper narrative, Jesus spends a lot of time speaking about and to “those whom you (the Father) gave me out of the world.” They’re a unique group of people. It’s only through them that the risen Jesus can expect to be “glorified.”
John’s Jesus especially reflects on the fact that the “words you (the Father) gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you and have believed that you sent me.” It’s up to them to “accomplish the work” God initially entrusted to the historical Jesus, to pass the words they received from him to others, to carry on his ministry.
After my early years of Catholic education, I thought the primary reason I was on this earth was simply to get into heaven when I died. It never occurred to me that I was expected to carry on Jesus’ work. If anyone was to do that, it was the priests and bishops. That idea was reinforced when I was in the seminary. Today’s gospel pericope, for instance, was always proclaimed in one of my seminaries before the special meal held for and with the newly ordained priests, introduced by the reader as “Jesus’ prayer for his priests.” Back then – in the early 1960s - no one seemed to realize that when John wrote his gospel there were no priests as we know them today. That development most probably wouldn’t take place for another century. In those unique days before the Christian community was split into clergy and laity, this prayer was said for all Jesus’ followers; each of his disciples was expected to be another Christ.
No wonder the unknown author of I Peter insists that “no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.” (Though I’m not too certain what an “intriguer” is, I think it might have something to do with chancery offices!) According to the sacred author, we’re not to be such sinful people because that behavior would stop us from getting into heaven but because such actions would hinder us from carrying on Jesus’ ministry. We’re the people who stand out in this world, working “in the name of Christ.”
Perhaps today especially it might be good to recall that old axiom attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words!” If we’re serious about being other Christs, then Jesus’ priorities must be our priorities, his lifestyle, our lifestyle. But before anything else, we have to actually “keep the word” we proclaim. How can we palm it off on someone else and still be glorifying Jesus?