Thursday, April 29, 2010

Whoever Receives The One I Send Receives Me. And Whoever Receives Me Receives THE ONE Who Sent Me.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 13:13-25
From Paphos, Paul and his companions
set sail and arrived at Perga in Pamphylia.
But John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
They continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered
into the synagogue and took their seats.
After the reading of the law and the prophets,
the synagogue officials sent word to them,
“My brothers, if one of you has a word
of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

So Paul got up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow children of Israel
and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel
chose our ancestors
and exalted the people
during their sojourn in the land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out,
and for about forty years
he put up with them in the desert.
When he had destroyed seven nations
in the land of Canaan,
he gave them their land as an inheritance
at the end of about four hundred and fifty years.
After these things he provided judges
up to Samuel the prophet.
Then they asked for a king.
God gave them Saul, son of Kish,
a man from the tribe of Benjamin,
for forty years.
Then he removed him
and raised up David as their king;
of him he testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse,
a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.
From this man’s descendants God,
according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming
by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course,
he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am?
I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy
to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”
Paul and Barnabas continue their first missionary journey. From Paphos on the north coast of Cyprus they set off for Perga, the capital of the province of Pamphylia. Pamphylia was a coastal province in Asia Minor, between provinces of Lydia and Cilicia on the south coast of modern Turkey. It was 8 km (5 miles) inland and 20 km (12 miles) east of the important seaport of Attalia.

At this point, John Mark, who had originally been one of the party, returned to Jerusalem, from where they had originally brought him. Later, this will lead to a dispute between Saul and Barnabas. John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas.

Why did John turn back? Various suggestions have been made, none of them certain:
     » homesickness to get back to Jerusalem
     » an illness of Paul which forced Paul to change his plans and go to Galatia
     » a change in leadership from Barnabas to Paul
     » or simply an inability to get along with Paul.

Later, Paul will express his dissatisfaction with John’s behaviour.

Paul and Barnabas (from now on Paul’s name is put first) do not seem to have stopped long in Perga but continued on to Antioch in the province of Pisidia (not to be confused with the Antioch in Syria where they had begun their missionary journey).

Pisidia was a district about 200 km (120 miles) long and 80 km (50 miles) wide, north of Pamphylia. Bandits were known to frequent the region. Antioch, its capital, had been named after Antiochus, king of Syria, following the death of Alexander the Great. It was about 185 km (110 miles) from Perga and was at crossroads of busy trading routes. The city had a large Jewish population. It was a Roman colony, which meant that a contingent of retired military men also settled there. They were given free land and made citizens of the city of Rome, with all the accompanying privileges.

As usual, on arriving in Antioch, the two missionaries went to the local synagogue on the sabbath. We saw yesterday Paul’s reasons for doing this. At the same time, he was not neglecting his mission to the Gentiles because Gentiles who believed in the God of the Jews were often among his audience. It was obvious, too, that the synagogue provided a readymade starting point with a building, regular meetings and people who were familiar with the Scriptures.

After the reading of the scriptures, as was the custom, they were invited by the synagogue officials to speak to the assembly. (We remember how Jesus, too, was invited to preach in the synagogue.) It was the responsibility of these officials to call on readers and preachers, to arrange the service and maintain order. As a rabbi and leading Pharisee, it was natural, too, to invite Paul to give a homily. This gave Paul the opportunity to give an outline of Jewish salvation history and to show that Jesus was the expected and promised saviour of Israel.

As he goes through the great events of the Old Testament, Paul shows how it was all part of God’s plans for his people. This discourse is typical of Paul’s preaching to a Jewish assembly. It falls into two parts, of which we have the first part in today’s reading (ending with v.25). It gives a summary of the history of salvation with an appendix recalling John the Baptist’s testimony.

Today’s reading ends half way through Paul’s speech with John the Baptist pointing to the “one who comes after me”, the thongs of whose sandals he was not worthy to loose. We will have the rest of the discourse in tomorrow’s reading.

It might be very profitable for each one us to look back over our own lives and see how God’s providence has been at work at various key points. Some of these experiences will bring back happy memories; others may be more painful. Nevertheless, God was present there and leading us on to something higher. How did we respond? And now that we are where we are now, where is God leading us at this stage of our life?
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 89
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations
my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said,
“My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him,
and through my name shall his horn be exalted.
He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’”
For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 13:16-20
When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet,
he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater
than the one who sent him.
If you understand this,
blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food
has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you
before it happens, so that when it happens
you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever receives the one I send
receives me,
and whoever receives me
receives the one who sent me.”
Today we begin today the second part of John’s gospel, sometimes known as the “Book of Glory” (chapters 13-20), covering Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Today’s passage immediately follows on the washing of his disciples’ feet by Jesus.
It is in that context that he says, “No slave is greater than his master; no messenger outranks the one who sent him.” With these words Jesus clearly urges his followers to serve each other in the same way that he, their Lord and Master, served them by the symbolic act of washing their feet. It was an act only done by the slaves in the household.

Jesus has given service to others a dignity which is totally independent of the status that society confers on people, dividing them into served and server. Jesus’ whole purpose for being among us was to serve. “Blessed will you be if you put this into practice.” It is a truth which many of us - clergy, religious and laity - do not always find it easy to practise consistently.

It would not be quite right to see Jesus washing his disciples’ feet as a humbling of himself. Service in the Gospel is primarily love in action. Love (agape) is the desire for the well-being of the other. That love is actualised by service, by the doing of acts for the good of the other. It is the act of brothers and sisters to and for each other. Status or position does not enter into it.

At the same time Jesus gives the first warning that there is one among them to whom these words will not apply. It is to prepare them for the prediction about his betrayal by one of the group. “The one who has shared my bread has raised his heel against me.” To share bread together was a mark of close fellowship and that is a primary meaning of the Eucharist which is a “breaking of bread” among the members of a close community. To ‘lift up the heel’ may refer a horse kicking or the shaking off of dust from one’s feet as sign of rejection.

Far from being shocked and disturbed by what is going to happen, they should be aware that everything that Jesus willingly undergoes in coming days is clear proof of his divine origin. “I tell you this now, before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may believe that I AM.”

For what is going to happen to Jesus is the ultimate act of service to his brothers and sisters. It is the greatest love that can be shown. Now they are being asked to hold on to Jesus’ identity as one with the Father even when they see him die in shame and disgrace on the cross.

In fact, their faith will be deeply shaken and will not be confirmed until after Pentecost.

Finally, anyone who accepts a disciple or messenger of Jesus, accepts both Jesus himself and the Father who sent him. There is a clear line of unity emanating from the Father going through the Son and passing through the disciple to others. There is just one mission - to bring about the Kingdom, the Reign of God in the world.
This acceptance is done by our sharing fully in Jesus’ own attitude of service, even to the giving of his life.


Sarah in the tent said...

'God gave them Saul, son of Kish,
a man from the tribe of Benjamin'.

St Paul was also a Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. I wonder if he saw his earlier relationship with Jesus in the Church as similar to the relationship of his ancestor Saul with David - but with the difference that he had a chance to make amends and become a precursor (like John) rather than remain a rival. Before his conversion, St Paul had the potential to be a leader of the Jews. But afterwards, he insisted more on his Roman citizenship and on his title of 'Apostle to the Gentiles', so perhaps he hoped his leadership in the gentile church would prove a kind of kingship among the gentiles. In a sense, this is what came to pass and ultimately, of course, he earned a martyr's crown.

'Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever receives the one I send
receives me,
and whoever receives me
receives the one who sent me'

I can't read this without worrying about the Pope's visit to Britain in September! Everyone from the Foreign Office down seems bent on causing him the maximum insult. Not good ...

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Saul of Tarsus had great potential to become a leader of Jews, and in fact, after he got "knocked off his horse", that is indeed what he became: a great leader among the Jews who followed The Way of Jesus.

There were two great missions to be accomplished by the leaders of The Way after Jesus returned to his place at the right hand of the Father.

The first was the conversion of the Jews, and Saul of Tarsus was one of these converts. That mission was carried out by the Apostles and the Hebrew speaking disciples who joined their company. Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul, was among these converts.

The second was the conversion of the Gentiles, a mission which was fulfilled to a great extent by Paul and his companions, a mission that earned him the title "Apsotle to the Gentiles."

I imagine that Paul had notions that "his leadership in the gentle church would prove a kind of kingship". But, by the grace of God, Paul was able to overcome the temptation to pride, and to fulfill his mission. That is why he calls himself, "the least of the apostles, born out of time", and says, "the only thing I can boast about is my weakness; for when I am weak, God's Spirit can be strong within me."

Would that we were all that "boastfully humble"!