Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Came Into The World As Light, So That All Who Believe In Me Might Not Remain In Darkness.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 12:24—13:5a
The word of God continued to spread and grow.
After Barnabas and Saul
completed their relief mission,
they returned to Jerusalem,
taking with them John, who is called Mark.

Now there were in the Church
at Antioch prophets and teachers:
Barnabas, Symeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene,
Manaen who was a close friend
of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
While they were worshiping the Lord
and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them.”
Then, completing their fasting and prayer,
they laid hands on them and sent them off.

So they, sent forth by the Holy Spirit,
went down to Seleucia
and from there sailed to Cyprus.
When they arrived in Salamis,
they proclaimed the word of God
in the Jewish synagogues.
There are three great missionary journeys of Paul described in the Acts of the Apostles and today we see the beginning of the first of these journeys. (Incidentally, he is still being called ‘Saul’ at this stage. The switch to ‘Paul’ is noted a few verses after the end of today’s reading - Acts 13:9.)

Saul and Barnabas had just returned to Antioch from Jerusalem where they had brought relief supplies to the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem who were suffering from famine. Such mutual support of brothers in need is an essential element of Christian community living. (This is surely what the Gospel means when Jesus tells his apostles that, after leaving all things for him, they will find a hundredfold mothers, brothers, sisters, houses… In a true Christian community, no one will be in want.)

With them they brought John Mark. Was he the young man who fled naked on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52)? The writing of the second gospel is attributed to him and he accompanied Barnabas and Saul on part of their first missionary journey.

We are also told today of a number of people in the church at Antioch described as ‘prophets’ and ‘teachers’. These two terms have very specific meanings in the New Testament and refer to particular ‘charisms’ with which certain people were endowed.

It does not identify in the group which was which, although there could be an overlap. However, these two roles are usually regarded as distinct charisms. The role of the prophet was to have a deeper insight into where God was calling the community to serve. The prophet was a visionary and a pioneer and led the way into new ways of proclaiming the Gospel.

The charism of the ‘teacher’, on the other hand, was his ability to instruct others on matters of morality and doctrine, instruction, usually based on the scriptures.

The role of the teacher was to communicate the common tradition in the community. The teacher conserves and hands on. Paul, in a way, had both charisms but was very much the prophet in the sense described. He was the great innovator in contrast to Peter, the keeper of the tradition.

The five prophets and teachers here named - Barnabas, Symeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (a friend of Herod the Tetrarch) and Saul - now represent the governing body of the church of Antioch. They all seem to be Hellenistic, Greek-speaking Jews and it is possible that the names are listed in order of importance with Barnabas at the head and Saul taking the last place. It seems he was still on probation.

It suddenly becomes clear to the community in their common prayer and fasting that God is calling Barnabas and Saul for a special evangelising work. Paul’s first missionary journey does not arise from his own initiative but is a response to the call of the Spirit made known as the community prays and fasts. Then, as a sign of missioning, all lay their hands on the two missionaries. They are to go and preach in the name of the community which has sent them.

So they set off by going down to Seleucia and from there to Cyprus. Seleucia was the seaport of Antioch 27 km (16 miles) to the west and 8 km (5 miles) upstream from the mouth of the Orontes River. Cyprus was where Barnabas came from. There were many Jews on the island and the Gospel had already been preached there.

They landed at Salamis, a town on the east coast of the central plain of Cyprus, near present-day Famagusta. It is not to be confused with the more famous place in Greece where the Greeks had a famous victory over the Persians.

The first objectives of the two missionaries are the Jewish synagogues. This will become the pattern of all the mission journeys. The idea was always to approach the Jews first on the principle that they had the first claim to hear the Gospel. It would be only after their refusal to accept the message that Paul would turn to the local Gentiles.

From today’s readings we could ask ourselves:
       » To what extent do I give spiritual and material help to those in need in my community?
       » Am I a teacher or a prophet in my community? Or do I have some other charism by which I contribute to the wellbeing of my community?
       » In what ways do I spread the word of the Gospel in my immediate environment? Am I known to be a committed and caring Christian?
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 67
O God, let all the nations praise you!
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
O God, let all the nations praise you!
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 12:44-50
Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me
believes not only in me
but also in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me
sees the one who sent me.
I came into the world as light,
so that everyone who believes in me
might not remain in darkness.
And if anyone hears my words
and does not observe them,
I do not condemn him,
for I did not come to condemn the world
but to save the world.
Whoever rejects me
and does not accept my words
has something to judge him:
the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day,
because I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me
commanded me what to say and speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”
Today we come to the end of what is called the “Book of Signs” (chapters 1-12) of John’s gospel. Through these signs - seven of them - Jesus clearly indicates who he is and what is mission is.

Today’s passage, which brings the “Book of Signs” to an end, is a recapitulation of all that has been said in the preceding chapters. The text says that Jesus “cried out” and spoke. This gives extra emphasis to what Jesus is proclaiming. It is once again a call to believe in Jesus where ‘believing in’ means much more than mere acceptance of the truth of his words. It implies that there is also a personal commitment to Jesus and to his mission.

And to believe in Jesus is also to believe, to surrender oneself entirely, to the One who sent him - the Father. All through this gospel Jesus emphasises the inseparability of the Father and the Son.

“I came into the world as light…” This phrase implies Jesus’ pre-existence as the Eternal Word as well as indicating he came with a mission - to bring light into darkness.

To put one’s faith in Jesus is to put one’s faith in God the Father, from whom he comes. And whoever really has insight into Jesus knows that he is in touch with God himself. As he has said before, Jesus is a light taking away the darkness with which we are surrounded. He also spells out more clearly than before what happens if we reject him and prefer darkness to light. “I will not condemn him” because Jesus has come to bring salvation, to bring wholeness to the world and not to condemn it.

"Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke; it will condemn him on the last day". The sun’s role is to give light but when there are obstacles to that light we get shadows. That is not the sun’s doing. Jesus, too, is the Light of the world. But, because of certain behaviour on our part, there are shadows and even darkness.

The ‘word’ of Jesus is a challenge. It offers us a way of living and of inter-relating with God, with others and with ourselves. If we choose another way we have only ourselves to blame when our lives go downhill. But Jesus is always there to lift us up. We only need to stretch out our hand and he will take it into his own.

Jesus tells us that his Father’s commands - which he also observes - mean eternal life. Everything that Jesus did was the carrying out of his Father’s will. We are called to follow the same path. If only we could realise that to follow Jesus is not to fit ourselves into a straitjacket but is a way to total freedom.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

Jesus knows that he is about to be judged and condemned by the world, but instead of pleading for mercy, He talks about the final judgement of the world by God. His priority is always the salvation of the world.

He pleads with people to hear His words and receive Him, but we know that instead many will decide to kill Him. I know that in the past I too have tried to block my ears and shut the door to Him. This passage makes me realize how we kill Jesus in the 21st century.