Saturday, April 24, 2010

Master, To Whom Shall We Go? You Have the Words Of Eternal Life.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter
Reading 1
Acts 9:31-42
The Church throughout all Judea,
Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
She was being built up
and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit
she grew in numbers.

As Peter was passing through every region,
he went down to the holy ones living in Lydda.
There he found a man named Aeneas,
who had been confined to bed for eight years,
for he was paralyzed.
Peter said to him,
“Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.
Get up and make your bed.”
He got up at once.
And all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon saw him,
and they turned to the Lord.

Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha
(which translated is Dorcas).
She was completely occupied
with good deeds and almsgiving.
Now during those days she fell sick and died,
so after washing her,
they laid her out in a room upstairs.
Since Lydda was near Joppa,
the disciples, hearing that Peter was there,
sent two men to him with the request,
“Please come to us without delay.”
So Peter got up and went with them.
When he arrived,
they took him to the room upstairs
where all the widows came to him weeping
and showing him the tunics and cloaks
that Dorcas had made while she was with them.
Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed.
Then he turned to her body and said,
“Tabitha, rise up.”
She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up.
He gave her his hand and raised her up,
and when he had called the holy ones and the widows,
he presented her alive.
This became known all over Joppa,
and many came to believe in the Lord.
Following the conversion of Saul, persecutions come to an end for the time being and the new Church enjoys peace all through Judea and Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. These were the places where, up to now, evangelisation have taken place. The communities experience the consolation of the Holy Spirit, in other words, the joy which their new faith brought to them. The work of the Spirit is constantly noted throughout the Acts. Which is why the book is sometimes called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

We are then told of two miracles performed by Peter, another sign that the power of Jesus through the Spirit is working in him. The healing and whole-making and life-giving work of Jesus continues.

First, in the town of Lydda a paralytic is cured. Lydda was a town about 5 km (3 miles) north of the road connecting Joppa (Jaffa today) on the Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem, and about 20 km (12 miles) from Joppa.

In Lydda Peter found a man named Aeneas, bed-ridden with a form of paralysis. As Peter had gone there to visit the believers, it is likely that Aeneas was one of the Christians. With the power of Jesus and in a similar manner Peter orders the man to get up (rise, resurrect to new life) and make, that is, fold up his bed which he does not need now during the day.

We are told that all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon, after seeing what Peter had done, “turned to the Lord”. The fertile plain of Sharon runs about 80 km (50 miles) along the Mediterranean coast, roughly from Joppa to Caesarea. In the context, however, the reference here is more likely to a village in the neighbourhood of Lydda instead of to such a large district. An Egyptian papyrus refers to a town by that name in Palestine.

Then, in the town of Joppa a much loved woman, who spent her life doing good for others, dies.

In accordance with both Jewish and Greek custom her body was washed and purified and, awaiting burial, was laid out in an upstairs room. This laying out would happen if the burial was delayed. In Jerusalem, a body had to be buried on the day of death but outside Jerusalem three days could be allowed. (Given the hot climate this is understandable. Muslims today also bury their dead very quickly.)

Her friends then hear that Peter is in nearby Lydda. In answer to their urgent request, Peter comes. Whether they wanted his presence either for consolation or for a cure, he was urged to come quickly before the burial took place. They tell him of all the good she had done and the widows (the most insecure people of that time) show him the gifts she had donated to them.

As Jesus did with the daughter of Jairus, Peter tells all to withdraw from the room. Unlike Jesus, he kneels down and prays. The power he sought was not his own but his Lord’s. “Tabitha,” he told her, “Stand up.” Again, they are words summoning to new life as he helped her to her feet. Only then were the believers and the widows called in.

Not surprisingly, the news of this spread like wildfire through the whole town and was the cause for many to believe in Jesus and the Gospel.

Jesus’ healing and life-giving work continues among us still. The only condition for us to experience it is our faith and trust in Jesus. It might be good for us to realise that each one of us can, in our own way, be a source of healing for others.

The normal way for Jesus to act is through the agency of his brothers and sisters, the members of his Body.
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Psalm 116
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
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John 6:60-69
Many of the disciples of Jesus
who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew
that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them,
“Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man
ascending to where he was before?
It is the Spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning
the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you
that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this,
many of his disciples
returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve,
“Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced
that you are the Holy One of God."
Today we conclude the discussion of Jesus as the Bread of Life.

Not only the Jews who heard him but Jesus’ own disciples had great difficulties accepting his call to eat his flesh and drink his blood as a way to life. “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” And, certainly on the basis of the words by themselves, we can sympathise with them; if we had been there, we would surely have had problems also.

Jesus is fully aware of their difficulty. “Does this shock you?” he asks them. If they have problems with this, how will they react when he rises from the dead and ascends to his Father? This is an indication that the acceptance of the resurrection was very much a matter of faith. No one literally saw Jesus rise from the dead or ascend to the Father. There was a faith conviction that it had taken place.

Jesus then points out where the problem really lies."The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.But there are some of you who do not believe.” The disciples are hearing Jesus’ words only in the “flesh” and not with the penetrating eyes of the Spirit. So there are some who cannot accept what he is saying. (John comments that Jesus knew who were those who would not believe and, particular, the one who would “hand him over”.)

To understand the real meaning of Jesus’ words comes from the gift, the grace of faith: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” And so, “after this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him”. Faith is a gift. It is a gift open to all but it is a gift to which one needs to be open to receive.

Jesus then turns to the Twelve, “What about you? Do you want to go away too?” Peter then, in the name of all, makes his profound act of trust and commitment: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, they acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, God’s chosen Messenger who is uniquely united with him.

“Believe” and “know” are in the perfect tense in the original Greek, meaning “We have come to know and have come to believe and continue to do so…” It indicates not just a momentary action but an ongoing state.

Actually, we have here John’s version of Peter’s confession which we find in a different form and context in the Synoptic gospels. Peter’s response to Jesus needs to become ours too. And, if we reflect more deeply on it, we know that Peter is right. There is really no viable alternative to the Way of Jesus, even when things happen which are difficult to understand or accept. The Way of Jesus is not just adherence to a religious sect. It is to see that the Way he proposes is the way for every human being to live. To assimilate Jesus into one’s life is not just to become a good Christian but a perfect human being on the model of Jesus, who is himself God in human flesh.

Yet, how many Christians stop believing and no longer walk Jesus’ Way? Perhaps we, too, have wavered more than once. Let us ask for the faith and strength to stay with him and experience the life that only he can give. Above all, help us to see our world with the eyes of Jesus. And to help others to do the same.

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