Wednesday, April 14, 2010

God So Loved The World That He Gave His Only-Begotten Son, That Through Him The World Might Be Saved.

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 5:17-26

The high priest rose up and all his companions,
that is, the party of the Sadducees,
and, filled with jealousy,
laid hands upon the Apostles
and put them in the public jail.
But during the night, the angel of the Lord
opened the doors of the prison,
led them out, and said,
“Go and take your place in the temple area,
and tell the people everything about this life.”
When they heard this,
they went to the temple
early in the morning and taught.
When the high priest and his companions arrived,
they convened the Sanhedrin,
the full senate of the children of Israel,
and sent to the jail to have them brought in.
But the court officers who went
did not find them in the prison,
so they came back and reported,
“We found the jail securely locked
and the guards stationed outside the doors,
but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”
When the captain of the temple guard
and the chief priests heard this report,
they were at a loss about them,
as to what this would come to.
Then someone came in and reported to them,
“The men whom you put in prison
are in the temple area
and are teaching the people.”
Then the captain and the court officers
went and brought them,
but without force,
because they were afraid
of being stoned by the people.
In the passage immediately preceding today’s reading we are told that many signs and wonders were being performed by the apostles and more and more people joined their community. Even Peter’s shadow falling on the sick was enough to heal them. All this was causing great alarm among the religious leadership, who saw these men acting on the basis of a faith (a Saviour risen from the dead) which they regarded as heretical. During the next three days (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) we will be hearing a description of the leaders’ efforts to put a stop to the apostles’ work.

Specifically those upset were the high priest and the Sadducee party to which he belonged. As we saw earlier, Caiaphas was the high priest recognised by Rome, but the Jews considered his father-in-law Annas still the high priest because it was an office held for life. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) as inspired and rejected later teachings accepted by others. Nor did they believe in a personal Messiah but only in a Messianic age. They also were seen to some extent as collaborators with the Romans and it was partly because they feared the reaction of the Romans that they wanted to get rid of this new ‘movement’ which could arouse the suspicions of the Roman authorities. “It is better,” Caiaphas had said during Jesus’ trial, “that one man die for the people than that our whole nation be destroyed.” Here was a similar situation.

We are told that the main motive for their displeasure was jealousy. The apostles were attracting large crowds, apart from the fact that they were disseminating a doctrine which the Sadducees denounced. So they had the apostles arrested and thrown into the public jail.

But during the night an “angel of the Lord” opened the gates for them and told them to go back and continue preaching in the Temple. The phrase ‘angel of the Lord’ appears four times in Acts: Stephen, during his address to the Sanhedrin, speaks of an angel speaking to Moses near Mount Sinai (7:30-38); an angel guides the deacon Philip to seek out the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26); an angel frees Peter from prison (12:7-10); and it is an angel who strikes down Herod when he accepts being addressed as a god (12:23).

In today’s reading, was it really a divine intervention or was it the work of a secret but influential supporter? It does not matter; it is clear that Jesus is with his apostles. So the dawn finds them back in the Temple preaching about Jesus.

The same morning, the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, was convoked and the prisoners summoned. The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish court, consisting of 70 to 100 men (the proper number was 71). They sat in a semi-circle, backed by three rows of disciples of the “learned men”, with the clerks of the court standing in front.

The temple guard found the jail locked, the guards at their posts but there was no sign of the apostles. They were dumbfounded and could not explain the situation. Then the council was amazed to hear that the apostles were back in the Temple teaching the people. They were re-arrested but with no show of force because the leaders feared the opposition of the crowd.

We have here again a pattern that recurs right through the history of the Church and indeed among all those who fight in this world for truth and justice. Untold numbers of Christians in every part of the world have found themselves in jail for their faith. There are Christians in detention and labour camps right now. They have experienced the protection of God who gives them courage and peace and a sense of liberation (even if they are not always miraculously released).

As in today’s case, those in power are aware that they often do not have the people on their side. Their only weapon is their power but not truth or justice. To keep their power and all that goes with it, they will not hesitate to suppress truth and act unjustly and often violently.

As with the apostles, we cannot acquiesce in a situation where truth and justice are being attacked. There must be dialogue and even resistance but never violence. Our own dignity and that of our opponents must be deeply respected. We oppose, not them, but their ideas and their actions. Gandhi was a wonderful exemplar of this and he was the inspiration for Martin Luther King’s anti-segregation campaign in the US. They both totally eschewed any form of violence but, not surprisingly, were themselves the victims of their opponents’ violence. Among our fellow-Catholics we think of people like Maximilian Kolbe or Bishop Oscar Romero. We might pray today to have even a modicum of their integrity and courage.

Tomorrow, we will continue with this story…
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 34
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 3:16-21
God so loved the world
that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
might not perish but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe
has already been condemned,
because he has not believed
in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.
Today we continue reflecting on the meeting of Jesus with Nicodemus. The dialogue has given way to a theological reflection in which the words of Jesus and of the author cannot easily be distinguished.

The theme is the relationship between God and the world. A few very important statements are made:
» God loves the world. He loves it so much that he gave his only Son, who died a terrible death on a cross as proof of that love. God loves the whole world and not just the “good” parts. God’s love is total and unconditional for every one of his creatures. But to experience the life that comes from God through Jesus we have to believe in him, open ourselves to him, give our whole selves to him in deep faith and trust.
» God did not send his Son to condemn the world but that it might be saved through him. We must constantly remind ourselves of this. God’s first and only instinct is to love us and for us to experience that love. We have been made by him and for him. He made us to share his life and love forever.
» Whoever fully believes in Jesus - in heart, word and deed - avoids judgement. But whoever does not believe is already condemned. That does not contradict what we have just said above. Judgment does not come from God but rather from our own choice. As today’s Gospel puts it: “The light came into the world, but people loved darkness rather than light… All who practice evil hate the light; they do not come near it for fear their deeds will be exposed.”

It is not God who abandons or dumps us; it is we who abandon him. We are our own judges when we deliberately prefer darkness to light. We put ourselves beyond the reach of his love, which is there and only waiting for us to turn back. On the contrary, the one who “acts in truth comes into the light, to make clear that his deeds are done in God”.

It is not God’s judgment that we are to fear. Rather it is our own choices which can bring us closer to him or away from him; it is our own choice whether we wish to live always in the light or choose darkness.

It might be good for us to reflect today on those dark corners of our life - present and past - which we keep hidden from others. Why do we hide these things? The person who lives in the light, the person of integrity and wholeness, has nothing whatever to hide.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...


When I was younger, I found all these angels an obstacle to belief. Paradoxically however, Prof. Dawkins' meme theory has helped me realize that perhaps angels are not totally at odds with modern science! The word 'angel' signifies the bearer of a message, while 'memes' have been invented to account for the fact that information is conveyed. So the scientist is inspired by a meme and the religious person is inspired by an angel - but both processes look very similar to me.


In Jesus, God has given us a covenant of love, so it's interesting to find out that the English word 'believe' ultimately derives from 'love' - like 'beloved'. Perhaps this shows how much the language we speak has been constructed by Christianity.

Imagine there were an English word 'belove' meaning 'to love and trust' as in a marriage, or even in the relationship between the Father and the Son. I think that would be a good word to express our response to God's testimony of love in Jesus.

Sometimes, when people say 'only believe', it can sound as though you are being asked to abandon your critical faculties. But surely it is more a call to get to know Jesus, so that you arrive at a loving trust in Him.