Graphic by David Chen

Jesus sets the pattern for harmony with God

  • May 4, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 14 (Year A) Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

Dissension and resentment in the Christian community is nothing new.

At the very beginning of the growth of Christianity, believers were already voicing complaints about favouritism, exclusion and unfair distribution of common stores. Predictably, this fault line was linguistic and ethnic in nature. Greek speakers felt strongly that their widows were being shortchanged in the daily food distribution and they painted the Hebrew speakers as the culprits.

Many of our factions and divisions today are fuelled by ethnic and language differences. The division in this story has an edifying ending: rather than escalating the disagreement, they sought and found a satisfactory solution that pleased everyone. They realized that no one can or should do everything and that the success of the Gospel’s proclamation would depend on cooperation and the contributions of all.

They carefully chose seven men and charged them to tend the tables and distribute the food. We note that they had Greek names, so they were probably Jews of the diaspora, although one was a Gentile convert. Diversity was already enriching the community. The chosen seven were called diakonoi — deacons — although at this stage their duties probably did not include any liturgical functions.

Their work was an important ministry, and they were commissioned by the laying on of hands. We know from Paul’s letters and pagan sources that women were also designated as deacons. The possibility of opening the diaconate to women is being studied today by a Church commission.

The community could easily have bogged down in egotistical in-fighting and competition, but it resisted that temptation. Their willingness to adapt, change and find solutions was instrumental in the reported spread of the Gospel and surge of conversions, even among priests and religious leaders. Unity, flexibility and willingness to sacrifice self for the common good are essential tools of any healthy community, but especially one that claims to be the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

The first communities of Christ-believers poured over the Scriptures — what we call the Old Testament — to place Jesus within the stream of Israel’s tradition. They sought images, symbols, verses and prophecies that illuminated their understanding and experience of Jesus, both during His lifetime and after the Resurrection. They gave a second life to many Old Testament passages, despite their original meaning, and used them to shape Christian self-understanding.

One such passage was Psalm 118:22. Not only did it speak of a rejected stone, but also its later status as the cornerstone of a new structure. For the author of 1 Peter, Christ was this living stone and believers were invited to become stones in His new spiritual dwelling.

The faithful in Christ were not called a royal priesthood, chosen people and holy nation to inflate their egos or exalt them above others. This role was for service and for the proclamation of the wonderful works of God. Being called is never just for oneself, but for mission to humanity and the world.

As Jesus tried to calm His jittery disciples, He offered some puzzling words of encouragement. He stated that He was the way, truth and the life and that no one could come to God except through Him. Did He mean to exclude the major portion of humanity, including many good people?

John’s words always need a lot of fine tuning.

Jesus said this in answer to Philip’s question about finding the way to the Father. He was not speaking of Christianity, but of Himself. Anyone desiring to approach God, regardless of the meandering path they take, must be in harmony with the pattern of Jesus: obedience to God, active compassion, love and humble service.

This divine pattern extends the invitation to many more people than a narrow ecclesiastical reading of the text might do. Jesus offered more enigmatic words: “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” This certainly cannot mean in a physical sense. John insisted that God is love and Jesus revealed in human form the perfect love that is the true nature of God.

All who encounter and experience Jesus will know they have encountered God. To those following this path, He offered unimaginable spiritual empowerment, enabling them to do even greater things than Him. If only we took His promise more seriously.

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