Deacons are ordained at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. CNS photo/Paul Haring

God's Word on Sunday: As a chosen race, we are Jesus’ companions

  • May 5, 2023

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

Tension and misunderstanding in church communities is nothing new. As the faith continued to spread, more people from disparate backgrounds joined the community, which often gives rise to friction and resentment.

The first incident involved the Greek-speaking members of the community, who felt that they were being neglected in the distribution of the bread. It was obvious that the Apostles had too many responsibilities. No one can do everything, and usually job performance suffers as a result of overwork. Seven men of good character were chosen and installed by the laying on of hands. They were diakonoi — servers — and at this stage there is no evidence that they fulfilled any liturgical function. 

The takeaway from this account of the choosing of deacons is the way in which they dealt with conflict. Rather than name-calling and open warfare, the matter was settled through dialogue, prayer and the Spirit. The Spirit cannot do its work if the people are not right with one another and with God. Those chosen to distribute the bread at table viewed this as a sacred calling and ministry, in line with Paul’s insistence that no part of the body of Christ is more important than the other.

This is echoed in the image of Christ as the living stone along with the living stones of those who believe and follow His path. The letter urges them to build a living temple in which true sacrifice and worship can take place.

Christ is precious to those who believe in Him, but the letter recognizes that not all will see Him in this light. Some are indifferent, while others are outright hostile. And so it must be — in a sense, Christ is the cause of division as the Gospels tell us. There will be those who embrace His message, those who will shrug their shoulders and then those who will be negative and hostile.

The letter continues with the acclamation that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s own people. This is not because of any achievement or spiritual superiority on our part other than our commitment of faith and our willingness to walk the path of Jesus. Those titles all signify service and example, not superiority or dominance. God will use us and depend on us for the spreading of the Gospel and the ministry to souls. In this way we exercise the priesthood that we have all been given in Christ.

The Gospel reading is quite dense and requires much unpacking. Jesus reassured His disciples that through faith both in Him and in God the Father they would never be alone or separated from the Lord. Jesus had already urged them to dwell or remain in Him and that means He carries them within Himself. They still did not understand, and they were on the verge of panic at His imminent departure. But He again reassured them that there was room for many and that there were numerous waystations on the journey. And then He clarified all their questions by revealing that He is the “way, the truth and the life.”

He was not speaking of Christianity, but of Himself. He is the divine pattern for all of humanity. In His person He has revealed the nature of God — love and light, as we are told in John’s letters. To all who follow His path, He promised life — that is, dwelling in the conscious awareness of God’s presence. He then said something rather shocking: those who believe in Him and follow His path will be able to do even greater things than Him. Jesus came to transform His followers into what He is and to embark on a long journey in service to God and to struggling souls.

Jesus does not need fellow travelers and those just along for the ride. He needs and wants co-workers, companions and partners. After all, He invited us to be His friends, not His servants. The next move is ours.