Jesus invites us to be one with the Father

  • April 7, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 17 (Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30)

There are many ways to relate a series of events, poetic, scientific, artistic and journalistic modes among them. When most people hear the word “history” they think of a straight-forward narration of unvarnished “facts.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no such thing as an unbiased or dispassionate narrator — everyone has a point to make, an axe to grind, an agenda to address or an ideology to advance. This should not really surprise anyone, and there is nothing nefarious or sinister about it. 

On the surface, Acts purports to be a history of the birth and growth of the early Church, and in some respects it is. But when we study carefully both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, both written by the same author, a clear pattern emerges. Throughout Acts, Luke’s consistent theme was Israel’s rejection of Jesus and the turning towards the Gentiles. The same set-piece story — hostility and jealousy in the synagogue followed by violence and persecution — is repeated several times throughout Acts. It usually concludes with a stirring justification for the establishment of the Gentiles as the new people of God. Again, this should not surprise us, since Luke was a Gentile writing for a Gentile Christian audience. This was the lens through which Luke described the early Church, but careful scholarship paints a very different picture. There was not as much hostility and polarization as we have been led to believe, and the real rupture with Judaism did not occur until the end of the first century. 

We should be wary in taking theological rhetoric at face value. Without historical understanding, these passages can and have been used to delegitimize and denigrate the Jewish people and justify triumphalistic attitudes. Luke’s history is but one view of the birth and growth of the Church — John and Paul saw things in a different light. We should always remember that God’s covenant with the Jewish people has never been revoked. 

The magnificent vision in Revelation echoes the fervent hope in Isaiah 25 for a time when pain, suffering and death will be no more. In the vision, the martyrs stand before the throne of God in continual adoration and worship. They represent a huge multitude from every tribe, nation and tongue on Earth — another example of the universal nature of Christ’s redemptive work. It is Christ who saves us and ushers us into God’s presence. 

Today we might understand the ordeal in a broader sense. Life in this difficult world has its share of struggles, pain and tragedy. Those that have remained hopeful, loving and faith-filled have definitely passed through the ordeal in a spiritual manner. They have navigated through life with heads held high and with a firm desire to do what is right and to make the world a better place. 

There are many languages on Earth, but the one that is most eloquent and least in need of interpretation is the language of the heart and soul. Some people responded to the words and the presence of Jesus with eagerness and openness, while others opposed Him vigourously. It would be the same today — even many who claim to be His followers would be greatly disturbed at His words and their implications. It is far easier to fashion a religion about Jesus rather than of Jesus. For many, His words resonated down deep and they “recognized” Him as one sent from God and the object of their spiritual yearning. They were not convinced by rational arguments or quotations from Scripture but the beauty and power of the words and teaching that flowed from the Father into the heart of Jesus. Their gift would be eternal life — dwelling in the presence and awareness of God in a personal and direct relationship. 

Jesus is one with the Father — in complete harmony — in will, purpose and love. It is the same relationship that Jesus invited His followers to experience, but this invitation is not often heeded. Words spoken from the heart of Christ seldom fall on deaf ears. Most people respond, each in his or her unique way, even if they do not consciously call themselves believers or disciples. In a world of raucous and conflicting voices, let us listen carefully for the Lord’s quiet, gentle but firm words of life and hope.