Saturday, May 30, 2009

It Is Because Of The Hope of Israel That I Am Bound With These Chains

When he entered Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

Three days later, he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people, or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with these chains."

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own lodgings and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them, the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what concern is that to you?"

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
John 21:20-25

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This reading from the Acts of the Apostles brings to mind how often we have read about people in history, or experience in our own lives, people who have been falsely accused. It seems to be an inevitable aspect of human nature to accept as true what is said about someone else without knowing the facts, or even questioning whether the allegation might be false. Even after the real truth has been revealed, some folks still want to lend credence to the untruth, perhaps because they think that changing their opinion might reflect badly on them, while right reasoning suggests the contrary. Which is better, to accept a lie as true even when it is proved false, or to acknowledge that we have been deceived by someone else’s false statement, and that we now accept the truth.

In today’s first reading, Paul states, “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with these chains." What is the “hope of Israel”? It is the promise that God would send a savior. But when Jesus came to the people of Israel, many of the Jews refused to accept him as the Savior. The life of Jesus, and the message he preached, was one which some found difficult, even fearsome, to accept. Jesus taught “Love one another as God has loved you”, and “When someone strikes you on one cheek, don’t strike back, but turn the other cheek” and “Give to what belongs to God – and to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”. Jesus teaches “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

In today’s gospel, we are encouraged not to be jealous of what others possess, or to be concerned if their values are different from our own. Instead, we are asked to focus on living our lives according to the teachings of Jesus. If we preach to others that their behavior is contrary to God’s law, they are likely to turn their backs and walk away, and will continue doing what they are doing. And if God believes that they are sincere, although mistaken in their belief, they will be saved. If our own behavior is contrary to the message we preach, they will not walk away, but run; and we will have to face divine judgment for our hypocrisy.

This is the final scene of John’s gospel, when once again, Peter is invited by Jesus, “Come, follow me!” Earlier, Jesus had said, “Where I am going, you can not follow now, but you will follow later. Now, that moment has arrived. Peter recalls that previous dialogue, but now he is beginning to understand what following Jesus might involve, that some day, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will lead you to where you do not want to go.” “Lord, what about him?” Peter asks, referring to John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. “What about him?” Jesus replies. “If I want him to stay until I come again in glory, what difference should that make to you?” Jesus wasn’t saying that John would live until the Second Coming, but reminding Peter “What concern is that to you?”

Peter has been given a significant role in the community of the disciples of Jesus: “Feed and tend my sheep.” There is no doubt now about what that responsibility will entail. He will not be lording it over the others like a Pharisee, a Teacher of the Law, or a Roman Emperor. Instead, like the Good Shepherd, he will give his life for his flock. He will be crucified during the persecution under the Emperor Nero in the sixth decade of the first century of the Christian era.

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