Saturday, May 1, 2010

Whoever Has Seen Me Has Seen The Father. The Father Who Dwells In Me Is Doing His Works.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 13:44-52

On the following sabbath
almost the whole city
gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds,
they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse
contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas
spoke out boldly and said,
“It was necessary that the word of God
be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves
as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”

The Gentiles were delighted
when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined
for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord
continued to spread
through the whole region.

The Jews, however,
incited the women of prominence
who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution
against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet
in protest against them
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled
with joy and the Holy Spirit.
We are still with Paul and Barnabas in Asia Minor. They are still proclaiming the message about Jesus as Lord in Pisidian Antioch. They now have the whole city coming to hear them speak the word of God. But they now incurred the jealously of some Jews who hurled abuse at the apostles. Perhaps, they believed that the word of God was only for them and not for Gentiles. Pearls were not to be thrown to swine.

Paul and Barnabas (notice that Paul is now regularly mentioned first) took this as a sign to transfer their energies to preaching among the Gentiles, who responded enthusiastically. Paul’s fellow-Jews in Antioch had shown themselves unfit to hear the Gospel. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” He had to speak to them first - and he will do this in other places as well - because the Gospel came and was intended for the Jews first. And Paul, of course, was himself a Jew and had great compassion for his people. This is expressed very well in his letter to the Romans (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1-3).

We are told that the two apostles spoke out these words “boldly”. The ‘courage’ and ‘confidence’ of the apostles has been already stressed by Luke on a number of occasions. Luke repeatedly attributes these qualities to Paul and Paul himself lays emphasis on them in a number of his letters. ‘Fortitude’ is one of the four cardinal virtues which should be the characteristic of every Christian.

On the other hand they turn to the Gentiles because the Lord had told them to be “a light to the nations [meaning the Gentiles]” and “a means of salvation to the ends of the earth”. This is a free rendering of the Septuagint (Greek) reading of Isaiah 49:6.

The words may be taken either as referring to Paul himself, apostle and teacher of the pagans, or to the risen Christ. Christ is the light of the pagans, he himself had said “I AM the Light of the World” but since only the apostles’ witness can spread this light, Paul considers this prophecy as a command that he must carry out. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had told his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) - in the sense that they are being called to transmit the Light that is Christ.

The Gentiles responded enthusiastically. “They glorified the word of the Lord” (received though Paul and Barnabas) and “all who were destined for eternal life came to believe”. ‘Eternal life’ refers to the life of the world to come. These are the ones whose names are “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20) and in “the book of life”. Actually, “destined for the life of the world to come” was a common rabbinic expression. For Christians, the first and necessary condition for this predestination to glory is faith in Christ.

As a result of the Gentiles’ enthusiasm for the message, “the word of the Lord was carried throughout that area”. In other words well beyond the bounds of the city.

However, some of the Jews continued their harassments. They incited prominent women who were believers (though not necessarily Jews) and leading men to stir up attacks on the two missionaries. They eventually managed to drive the two apostles from the city.

Following the teaching of the Gospel, they shook the dust of the city from their feet (cf. Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5). In doing this, they showed the severance of responsibility and the repudiation of those who had rejected their message and had brought suffering to the servants of the Lord.

They now continued on to the town of Iconium, lying to the east of Antioch on the southern borders of the province of Galatia. Its modern name is Konya. In Paul’s time it was an important crossroads and an agricultural centre for the central plain of Galatia.

Far from being discouraged by their experience in Antioch, we are told that the two missionaries, “could not but be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit”. It teaches us a lesson we continually need to learn. The preaching of the Gospel, in spite of its message of love and forgiveness and justice and its rejection of all forms of violence, can incur vicious and violent opposition. We should neither be surprised nor discouraged at this.

On the contrary, like the apostles, we should rejoice that, with Jesus, we suffer for proclaiming the message of life and love. “Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10). We think of the story of the three men, thrown into the fiery furnace by an angry King Nebuchnadnezzar, singing the praises of God or, in much more recent times (and with more historical validity) of the civil rights marchers under Martin Luther King singing ‘We shall overcome’ as they were carried off to jail.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 98
All the ends of the earth have seen
the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations
he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness
and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the saving power of God.
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 14:7-14
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you know me,
then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him
and have seen him.”
Philip said to Jesus,
“Master, show us the Father,
and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him,
“Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say,
‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you
I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me
is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me,
or else,
believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me
will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.
And whatever you ask
in my name, I will do,
so that the Father
may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name,
I will do it.”
Once again we have to be thankful for a disciple’s question. Jesus has just said that those who really know him also know his Father. In fact, he says, they have already seen him. But, after all this talk about the Father, Philip, the naive one, is puzzled. “Show us this Father you are always talking about. That is all we ask.” Perhaps, like some of the other Jews, he was expecting some dramatic sign, some striking manifestation of the Father.

“Philip,” Jesus replies patiently, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works I do.” Philip still lacked that faith that could see the Father clearly working in and through Jesus.

Of course, what Jesus says has to be understood properly. In a sense, when we see Jesus we do see the Father; but, in another sense, we do not see the Father, at least not fully. When Jesus speaks, the Father speaks; when Jesus forgives, the Father forgives; when Jesus heals, the Father heals; when Jesus gives life, it is the Father who gives life.

Jesus is the Word of God; he is the utterance of God; he is God expressing himself and communicating himself to us. In his person, Jesus is totally united with the Father. But in Jesus’ humanity, which is where we meet him, the Father only comes through in the dimmest fashion. As Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The love that Jesus shows is the love of the Father but, limited by his human nature, it is only the faintest image of the full reality of that love. It is important for us to understand this. That is why Jesus calls himself the Way; he is the Way not the End. The Father is the end and goal of all living.

And so Jesus goes on to make a statement that at first seems strange. “The one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these. Why? Because I go to the Father.” How can we possible do greater, far greater things than Jesus? Yet, in a way, it is very true.

Jesus, in his time here on earth, was very limited in what he could accomplish. He lived in one very small place, probably spoke only one language, although he might have picked up a smattering of Greek; he reached relatively few people and was only intimate with a small number.

There are many Christians today who with the means of travel and communications available to them can bring the message of Jesus to far greater numbers and often more effectively. The pope in a major address or at a Christmas Mass can reach a potential audience of billions through television, radio and the newspaper. Jesus could do none of these things.

Jesus, now in his risen Body, the Church, can indeed “do far greater things” and this was made possible by his going back to the Father and passing on his work into our hands. Given the instruments at our disposal, we have a great responsibility to do that “greater work”.

But to do that work we need, of course, to rely on the help and guidance of Jesus through his Spirit. As he says in conclusion today, “Anything you ask me in my name I will do.” He has left us but is still with us.

And to pray in his name is not just to use his name like a talisman or charm. In invoking Jesus’ name we also fully identify ourselves with his Way and his will. It is not an invitation to make any kind of arbitrary request to suit our own personal whims. Primarily, it is to ask his help in spreading his Gospel. That is a prayer which he will surely answer.

No comments: