An imperfect people on a spiritual journey to God

  • April 15, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 24 (Acts 14:21b-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:1, 31-33a, 34-35)

What sort of word did Paul and Barnabas proclaim to the communities they founded? We can expect that the death and resurrection of Jesus was first on the list — details about His life came later. Most importantly, their proclamation included the warning that Jesus had been appointed judge of the living and the dead.

Baptism and living in the Spirit ensured that they would be found blameless on the day of the Lord’s return. There was an incredible urgency in their preaching that we seem to have lost. The message was not sugar-coated — they could expect persecution as a necessary part of their journey to the kingdom of God.

A couple of key points about the early communities are impressive and challenging. First of all, their shared spiritual life was intense, intentional and vibrant. The solidarity and unity of purpose was palpable. The second is the sense of wonder and gratitude on the part of Paul and Barnabas that God had confounded human designs by opening the gates to the Gentiles. God is far more immense in design and in compassionate generosity than we can ever imagine. Our own fear and obstinacy can often resist the kindness and mercy of God. The recent exhortation by Pope Francis urges us to be as kind and merciful as God and to do our utmost to include all in God’s family. Let us not feel resentment or dismay at the call to be more welcoming. We are not an exclusive club of the holy and the saved but a community of very imperfect people on our spiritual journey to God. We all struggle; we all fail often; we all help one another along the way. Let us be merciful to one another, especially to those most in need of mercy.

The vision of Revelation was about newness and change. The New Testament repeatedly speaks of the old world that is passing away in order that the new one may be born. Yet some then and now cling to the old age or attempt to revive a world that has passed into history. Revelation’s vision assures us God is always at work. The New Jerusalem is not a place but a new way of living in and with God. God will not be distant, but will dwell in the midst of humans in a way that will permit them to know and experience Him personally. Pain and suffering, tears and misery, will be wiped away so humanity can live in happiness and fulfilment. This is God’s future — it’s not here yet. Some individuals are graced with this experience now, while others will have to be patient while they grow in wisdom and grace. Eventually, this is God’s plan for all humanity, so it is an ideal and hope-filled vision to energize us for the journey.

In this rather fragmentary lectionary reading from John’s last supper, Jesus gives His only commandment to His followers. They are to love one another, in the same measure that He had loved them. It sounds deceptively simple — and it is, if by simple we mean not complicated. But it is also very difficult, for Jesus shows them the absolute length and depth of the sort of love to which He refers. First, the text informs us that Jesus loved His followers to the end. He then gave them the shocking example of humble and loving service in the washing of the feet. Finally, He gave the love commandment. In the next couple of chapters, He repeated this commandment several times, and He added that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others. His death on the cross was the supreme example of self-sacrificing love on behalf of others.

For most of us, this means focusing on the well-being and happiness of others — even those who are difficult to love — and doing something about it. He ended with some sobering words. The litmus test for a true disciple of Jesus is love — nothing else. That is the only way that people will know if those claiming to be a disciple of Jesus is the real thing or deluding themselves and others.