Friday, April 30, 2010

I AM The Way. I AM Truth And Life.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 13:26-33
When Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia,
he said in the synagogue:
“My brothers,
children of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you
who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem
and their leaders failed to recognize him,
and by condemning him
they fulfilled the oracles of the prophets
that are read sabbath after sabbath.
For even though they found
no grounds for a death sentence,
they asked Pilate to have him put to death,
and when they had accomplished
all that was written about him,
they took him down from the tree
and placed him in a tomb.
But God raised him from the dead,
and for many days he appeared
to those who had come up
with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.
These are now his witnesses before the people.
We ourselves are proclaiming
this good news to you
that what God promised our fathers
he has brought to fulfillment for us,
their children, by raising up Jesus,
as it is written in the second psalm,
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
Paul continues his discourse on salvation history and on how Jesus was handed over by the leaders of his people into the hands of the Romans and executed. He addresses his words both to the Jews in his audience (”children of the family of Abraham”) and the Gentile converts (”you who are God-fearing”).

Paul makes it clear that the Jerusalem leaders and the people in the city failed to recognise the true identity of Jesus as the expected Messiah. However, he does not in any way implicate his hearers.

In doing what they did, Jerusalem was only fulfilling the well-known words of the Old Testament prophets, prophets whose readings were heard every Sabbath in the synagogue and hence with which his hearers would be familiar. And, by handing over an innocent man unjustly into the hands of Pilate, they were simply accomplishing everything about Jesus that had been written in those same readings.

But it was not the end, for God raised Jesus up and the apostles are the witnesses to this fact over a period of several days (40 days according to Luke’s account).

Paul and his companions now are proclaiming this good news of what God has done for his people through Jesus Christ. And he emphasises that it is all the expected fulfilment of everything that was prophesied.

Jesus is no upstart. He is the expected climax to the history of God’s people. Paul quotes from the Psalm, “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.” The words clearly are pointing to Jesus as God’s Son. By his resurrection Christ was enthroned as Messiah, and from then on his human nature enjoyed all the privileges of the Son of God. Paul’s words are an unambiguous invitation to the Jews of Antioch to become believers and disciples.

Let us, too, renew our commitment to following with all our heart and soul in the steps of the dying and rising Jesus.
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Psalm 2
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
“I myself have set up my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
this day I have begotten you.”
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
“Ask of me and I will give you
the nations for an inheritance
and the ends of the earth for your possession.
You shall rule them with an iron rod;
you shall shatter them like an earthen dish.”
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
And now, O kings, give heed;
take warning, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice before him
with trembling rejoice.
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 14:1-6
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house
there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you
that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him,
“I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.”
We begin today the long discourse, covering four chapters (14-17) of John, in which Jesus at the Last Supper says farewell and gives his final instructions to his disciples. Although it is, on the face of it, spoken in anticipation of what is going to happen, it clearly reflects some of the fears and anxieties of the post-resurrection community coping without the direct leadership of Jesus and often harassed by both Jews and Gentiles alike.

So it begins by Jesus telling his disciples “not to be troubled”. The immediate reason is the great threat that hangs over Jesus and his warnings to them of what is going to happen to him. The disciples are disturbed by the predictions of betrayal, of Jesus’ leaving them and betrayal by Peter.

But it is also directed to all those who, because of their following of Jesus, fall under threat of persecution or harassment. It is a time for faith, in the sense of a deep trust in Jesus’ desire to take care of us.

In face of this Jesus tells them to have faith in him and in his Father. Faith here means a deep trust that Jesus will take care of them and give them the strength to face any difficulties.

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places [i.e. places in which to stay permanently]… I am indeed going to prepare a place for you… I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be.” Jesus is about to leave his disciples but he will be back soon and taken them to the place which has been specially prepared for them. He will return very soon after his resurrection, although in a very different way, and he will come at the end to take them to himself forever. And, not to worry, there is plenty of room for everyone. In the end, we will be where he is and that is the only goal of our lives that matters.

And then he says, “You know the way that leads to where I go.” They - and we - certainly ought to know the way but we are glad that Thomas, characterised in the Gospel by his blunt speaking, asked his question which drew forth a famous answer.

“Lord,” said Thomas, “we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus replied: “I AM the Way. I AM Truth and Life.” Jesus does not only tell us where to go. He is himself the Way.

Jesus is not a way but the Way. This is not to be understood in a narrow sectarian sense. The way of life that Jesus proposes is not just for a particular group of people; it is a way of life for every single person to follow. The heart of that Way is an unconditional love which sees every other person as a brother or sister and a love which gives itself unceasingly in service.

If we want to know where our lives, where any life, should be going, all we need to do is to identify ourselves totally with the attitudes, the values and the goals of life that Jesus lays down for us.

And, as the Way, he is Truth and Life. Jesus is Truth not just because the things he says are true. His whole life, everything he says and does, all his relationships, have the ring of truth and integrity.

And, of course, he is Life. When we unconditionally decide to walk his Way, we, here and now, begin to live in the fullest manner possible.

Thank you, Thomas, for asking that question. All we need now is to make the answer the centre of our living.

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.

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?
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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.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Father And I Are One.

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 11:19-26
Those who had been scattered
by the persecution
that arose because of Stephen
went as far as
Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word to no one but Jews.
There were some Cypriots
and Cyrenians among them, however,
who came to Antioch
and began to speak to the Greeks as well,
proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
The hand of the Lord was with them
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached
the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God,
he rejoiced and encouraged them all
to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,
for he was a good man,
filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people
was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
and when he had found him
he brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year they met with the Church
and taught a large number of people,
and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians.
The results of the early persecution were to scatter the Jewish Christians to places like Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.

Phoenicia was a country about 15 miles wide and 120 miles long stretching along the north-eastern Mediterranean coast (corresponding to the modern Lebanon). Its important cities were Tyre and Sidon, which are mentioned in the gospels. The Phoenicians were legendary seafarers.

Cyprus is an island in the north-eastern Mediterranean and was the home of Barnabas the Apostle. Antioch, on the river Orontes, was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and the third city of the empire after Rome and Alexandria. It was 25 km (15 miles) inland from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. The first mainly Gentile local church was located here. In many ways, it would become the headquarters for the mission to the Gentiles and from here Paul would launch his three missionary journeys. More about them later.

Today we have the story of the Church being founded in Antioch in Syria. It strictly speaking was an immediate sequel to the martyrdom of Stephen and the savage persecution which followed and scattered the Jerusalem Christians in many directions. However, in between we have been looking at the work of the deacon Philip and Peter’s involvement with the Gentiles. We also saw the conversion of Saul, which is presumed to have already taken place.

At first the refugees only evangelised their fellow-Jews. But then Jewish Christians from places like Cyprus and Cyrene, on the north coast of Africa, who were used to more pluralistic societies, also began to approach “Greeks”, people were not circumcised, in other words, non-Jews. These responded very well and many became disciples of the Lord Jesus.

They used the term “Lord Jesus” rather than “Christ”, which was a title more suited to Jewish audiences with messianic expectations. To the non-Jews Jesus was more usually called “Lord”. He is “Lord” because, elevated to God’s right hand, he now rules over the Kingdom which he inaugurated.

And the Lord’s hand was with the evangelisers, indicating God’s approval and blessing on their work, sometimes indicated by signs and wonders. It was the beginning of the “Church at Antioch”, one of many “churches” to be set up in the following years.

When all this came to the ears of the people in Jerusalem, who were still thinking primarily in terms of Christians only as Jews, they sent Barnabas to investigate. Jerusalem, where the apostles were centred, had a right of supervision over other churches. And so the sending of Barnabas was in keeping with Jerusalem’s policy of sending leaders to check on new ministries coming to their attention. As a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus Barnabas was an obvious choice for this mission.

It is clear that Barnabas was very happy with what he came across. “He saw the grace of God… and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord.” He saw clearly that the Gentile converts were very genuine and encouraged the local church to continue what it was doing. And Luke comments, “He was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith”, words also used to describe Stephen.

Then, Barnabas went off to Tarsus, a city in the province of Cilicia, in what is now the south-eastern corner of Turkey, and brought Saul back to Antioch. (Saul had been forced to leave after his conversion because the Christians would not believe the genuineness of his conversion. They thought he was simply trying to infiltrate the Christian communities with the intention of destroying them). All of this resulted in great numbers joining the Church community under the leadership and formation of Saul and Barnabas, who stayed on for a whole year in the city.again we see innovation and new ground coming from the fringe rather than from the centre and how, after discernment, it is seen to be a valid development. In our Church today, it is still the fringe which pioneers, while the role of Rome is to consolidate.

It is also an example of the phrase: “The world writes the agenda for the Church.”. It was the influence of a local situation which led to new insights seen as a valid development of the Christian vision.

It was here, too, we are told that the “disciples”, that is, the followers of Jesus’ Way, were first given the nickname “Christians”. (It indicates that those who coined it took “Christ” to be a personal name rather than a title.) It is not certain whether the followers adopted the name themselves or whether it was used by enemies as a term of contempt. In either case, it is a fitting title for those who attach themselves to Jesus and his Way. We too should be proud of this nickname. It is not something we should hide nor, on the other hand, is it a name that we should dishonour by our behavior -- and still less wear lightly.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 87
All you nations, praise the Lord.
His foundation upon the holy mountains
the LORD loves:
The gates of Zion,
more than any dwelling of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you,
O city of God!
All you nations, praise the Lord.
I tell of Egypt and Babylon
among those who know the LORD;
Of Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia:
“This man was born there.”
And of Zion they shall say:
“One and all were born in her;
And he who has established her
is the Most High LORD.”
All you nations, praise the Lord.
They shall note, when the peoples are enrolled:
“This man was born there.”
And all shall sing, in their festive dance:
“My home is within you.”
All you nations, praise the Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 1-:22-30
The feast of the Dedication
was taking place in Jerusalem.
It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area
on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him
and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them,
“I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do
in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe,
because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all,
and no one can take them
out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”
We continue the image of Jesus as the Shepherd. “It is winter” and the scene is Solomon’s portico on the east side of the Temple during the winter festival of Dedication or Hanukkah. This feast is the commemoration of the dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in December 165 BC after it had been desecrated by the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes. It was the last great act of liberation which the Jews had experienced.

We are told that Jesus was walking in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. This was a roofed-in structure not unlike the ‘stoa’ of the Greeks. It was commonly believed to date back to the time of Solomon (who built the original temple) but this was not the case.

Again Jesus is questioned very directly about his true identity. “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” The question indicates that they had understood the meaning behind many of the things he said and did. On the other hand, it was not a question that could simply be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ because of the many divergent ideas and expectations concerning the Messiah which were current at the time. And certainly none of them corresponded to the kind of Messiah that Jesus would turn out to be.

Once again Jesus says that he has already told them but they refuse to believe. Previous statements made it clear that he spoke as one with a mission from God. Perhaps he had not explicitly said he was the Messiah (except to the Samaritan Woman) but it should have been clear either from his statements or from the evidence of his whole way of life, including the signs he had given - all clearly done in his Father’s name.

The works he has done are a consistent testimony of his true origins "But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep."

He then lists the characteristics of true sheep or followers:
      » they hear my voice
      » I know them
      » they follow me.

And, as we have said elsewhere, to “hear” in the Gospel means:
      » to listen
      » to understand
      » to assimilate fully into one’s own thinking
      » to carry out what one hears.

To these disciples Jesus gives “eternal life”. The security of the sheep is in the power of the Shepherd and no one will snatch them from his hand. And that is because they have been given to him by the Father, whose power is greater than any enemy.

Finally, in a clear and unequivocal answer to their original challenge, he tells his questioners: “The Father and I are one.” The power that the Son has is the same as the Father’s. This is not an unequivocal statement of divinity but points in that direction. And Jesus’ listeners hear it in that way.

Significantly, the Greek that is translated "The Father and I are one" is in the neuter gender. In contrast, if someone had said, "The one who is preaching in the Temple is the carpenter from Nazareth", the words "the one" would be in the masculine gender.  The message is: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one in nature, but they are three distinct Persons.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I Am The Sheepgate. Whoever Enters Through Me Will Be Saved

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 11:1-18
The Apostles and the brothers
who were in Judea
heard that the Gentiles too
had accepted the word of God.
So when Peter went up to Jerusalem
the circumcised believers confronted him, saying,
‘You entered the house of uncircumcised people
and ate with them.”
Peter began and explained it to them step by step,
saying, “I was at prayer in the city of Joppa
when in a trance I had a vision,
something resembling a large sheet coming down,
lowered from the sky by its four corners,
and it came to me.
Looking intently into it,
I observed and saw
the four-legged animals of the earth,
the wild beasts, the reptiles,
and the birds of the sky.
I also heard a voice say to me,
‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’
But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir,
because nothing profane or unclean
has ever entered my mouth.’
But a second time
a voice from heaven answered,
‘What God has made clean,
you are not to call profane.’
This happened three times,
and then everything was drawn up again into the sky.
Just then three men appeared
at the house where we were,
who had been sent to me from Caesarea.
The Spirit told me
to accompany them without discriminating.
These six brothers also went with me,
and we entered the man’s house.
He related to us how he had seen the angel
standing in his house, saying,
‘Send someone to Joppa
and summon Simon, who is called Peter,
who will speak words to you
by which you and all your household will be saved.’
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them
as it had upon us at the beginning,
and I remembered the word of the Lord,
how he had said,
‘John baptized with water
but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us
when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
who was I to be able to hinder God?”
When they heard this,
they stopped objecting
and glorified God, saying,
“God has then granted
life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”
We have now entered a momentous part of the Acts which describes the inauguration of the mission to the Gentiles. It may not seem a big deal to us but it involved a radical change in thinking for the first Christians who were all Jews and still felt like Jews and maintained many of the religious customs of Jews. It changed the whole complexion of the Christian ‘movement’ inaugurated by Jesus.

It opens with the conversion and baptism of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion in the Roman army. But it also involves a conversion on the part of Peter who becomes aware that God’s calling in Jesus is extended to people of all races and religions. All of this is contained in chapter 10 which we will not be reading. (The story of Cornelius is dealt with on the 6th Sunday of Easter, in the Year B.)

What we see in today’s reading is the reaction of the Christian leaders in Jerusalem to the news of a Gentile’s baptism. It involves a major breakthrough in the development of the Church’s awareness of its identity.

The apostles and their fellow Christians in Jerusalem had heard that the pagans were accepting the word of God. We will see here and elsewhere in the Acts that in matters of importance, the apostles did not act alone. Guidance came from the Spirit, the apostles interpreted and exhorted, but the consent of the whole church was then sought (”the whole group”, 6:5; “apostles and the brothers”, 11:1; “the church”, 11:22; “the church and the apostles and elders”, 15:4; cf. 15:22).

The Christians in Jerusalem seem to have received this news with mixed feelings because when Peter went up to Jerusalem the “circumcised believers”, that is, the Jewish Christians, criticised him for visiting the homes of the “uncircumcised” and even eating with them. (We remember how Jesus too was criticised for consorting with the ‘unclean’ and eating with them, which led to his speaking the three beautiful parables in Luke 15 about the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son).

The “uncircumcised” were those Gentiles who did not observe the laws of clean and unclean food and hence were in violation of Jewish regulations concerning food preparation. At this stage it is clear that the Jewish Christians saw themselves, even in a religious sense, as Jews. We know that they continued to go to the Temple to pray and here they have not yet changed their attitude to non-Jews and see them as a source of contamination.

Peter then shares with them a dream which he had. In this dream there appeared every kind of living thing that could “walk, crawl or fly”. He was told to kill and eat. He recoiled in horror. As a devout Jew he had never touched food that was regarded as ‘unclean’. He was made to realise in no uncertain terms that “what God had made clean, he had no right to call unclean”. In case he did not get the message, this vision was repeated three times.

Just then he also got an invitation to join three men in going to a house in Caesarea. This house, as we were told in the previous chapter, belonged to Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army. It seems that he was an out and out Gentile, with no connections whatever to Judaism. Peter went, together with six companions, under the guidance and the approval of the Spirit.

When they got there Cornelius said he had been told by an angel to summon Peter to his house. Peter had a special message for him to hear. Peter had barely begun to explain the message of Jesus when the Holy Spirit came down on all of the household just as the apostles themselves had experienced it (at Pentecost). The “household” (familia in Latin) included not only those related by blood (parents, children, other relatives) but also slaves and all who were under Cornelius’ authority.

It was perfectly clear to Peter that there was no way he could deny baptism and membership of the community to this Gentile, who up to this he had regarded as unclean and a person not to be mixed with. “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”, he told the Christians in Jerusalem.

Peter could not deny the Gentiles the invitation to be baptised and to enjoy full fellowship in Christ with all believers. The Jewish believers were compelled to recognise that God was going to save Gentiles on equal terms with Jews. By divine action rather than by human choice, the door was being opened to Gentiles.

Peter explains why he allowed a pagan to be baptised. However, he does not answer the objection that he had lodged with the uncircumcised. According to Luke, Peter was considered to have been the first to receive pagans into the Church, in spite of the episode of the Ethiopian eunuch, which we read on Thursday of last week, and the date of the evangelisation of Antioch to which Luke does not refer till later (in fact, immediately after this incident). Against this background the council of Jerusalem (which we will see in the middle of next week) appears as a kind of sequel to, or repetition of, the discussion in today’s passage. It is clear that Peter’s leadership is being emphasised.

The people in Jerusalem accepted what Peter told them and gave thanks to God that even the Gentiles could experience “the repentance [i.e. radical conversion] that leads to life”. Not just repenting the past but undertaking a complete turn-around in their life involving a total commitment to the Way of Christ.

This story is just one example to be repeated again and again in the life of the Church of how change does not come from the centre, which in fact is often resistant to change, but from the outer limits.

The same is true of our Church today. There is always this tension between the central institution and the more charismatic and prophetic elements which are often more in touch with the grass roots and with the changes which are taking place in society which call for changes too in the thinking and behaviour of the Church. This tension is a good thing and is necessary both for progress and continuity.

The Second Vatican Council is an excellent example of this process.

+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 42
Athirst is my soul for the living God.
As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
Athirst is my soul for the living God.
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place.
Athirst is my soul for the living God.
Then will I go in to the altar of God,
the God of my gladness and joy;
Then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
O God, my God!
Athirst is my soul for the living God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
John 10:1-10
Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter
a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere
is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate
is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him,
and the sheep hear his voice,
as he calls his own sheep by name
and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize
the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me
are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal
and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life
and have it more abundantly.”
“Two kinds of sheepfolds or corrals are mentioned in today’s reading. In the common town sheepfold, the shepherd makes his special call and his sheep follow him out confidently. Out on the range, however, the shepherd sleeps across the corral opening: his body is the protecting door. So we live, pray and are saved through Jesus our Good Shepherd.” (Vatican II missal)

We now jump from chapter 7 to chapter 10, omitting the whole episode linked with Jesus as the Light of the World and the dramatic healing of the man born blind, texts which we reflected on during Lent in relation to Baptism.

We begin today to consider two images that Jesus gives of himself: the first is that of a gate and the second that of a shepherd.

We have to imagine a sheepfold as an area surrounded by walls or wooden fencing but open to the sky, and with only one entrance. The walls kept the sheep from wandering and protected them from wild animals at night. Only a genuine shepherd enters the sheepfold through the single gate. Thieves and brigands will try to enter by another way, such as by climbing over the walls or breaking through the fence.

“All who came before me are thieves and robbers but the sheep do not listen to them.” Jesus is referring to all the “false shepherds”, including some of the Pharisees and religious leaders of his time who are quite unlike the true prophets of the past.

The real shepherd, however, enters by the gate and is recognised and admitted by the gatekeeper (the one mentioned above who sleeps across the entrance). There are many sheep in the sheepfold belonging to different shepherds so the shepherd calls his own sheep out one by one. He then walks ahead of them and they follow their shepherd because they know his voice. They never follow strangers. (This is quite different from the custom in Europe, Australia and North America where the sheep are driven from behind.)

We are told that his hearers failed to understand the meaning of what Jesus said. They failed to realise that the parable applied particularly to the religious leaders.

So he spoke more clearly: “I AM the gate of the sheepfold.” Here we have the second of the seven ‘I AM’  statements made by Jesus in this gospel. Again Jesus’ points to his divine origin by using the name of God which was given to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).

On the contrary, Jesus, as the Gate, the Way, has come “that they may have life and have it to the full.” This is a constant theme we have heard many times already and especially in chapter 6 about Jesus as the food and nourishment giving us life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We Are His People, The Sheep Of His Flock.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Reading I
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered the synagogue
and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers
who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas,
who spoke to them and urged them
to remain faithful to the grace of God.

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.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne
and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes
and holding palm branches in their hands.

Then one of the elders said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived
the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb.

“For this reason
they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne
will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them and lead them
to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away
every tear from their eyes.”
John 10:27-30
Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all,
and no one can take them
out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”
Today, the Fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The gospel of the day, by no coincidence, is the parable told by Jesus of the shepherd and the sheep.
The image of the shepherd and the sheep is an ancient one in the Scriptures. But, like all scriptural images, it is not to be taken too literally. Anyone who has observed the behavior of sheep up close for any length of time realizes that they can be quite silly – not to say stupid. There are no leaders, only followers. If one panics – even for no real reason – they all panic. They are timid, fearful, and lack initiative. Maybe they’re not that different from us after all!

In the Scriptures, the focus is not on the sheep but on the shepherd. In the Hebrew Scripture, there are beautiful images of the shepherd and his sheep, especially in Ezekiel and in the Psalms. The image is of someone who gives caring and compassionate leadership to the flock. The Middle Eastern shepherd does not use dogs or horses to drive the sheep, as they do in western countries. The shepherd walks in front of this sheep, and they follow him freely. They hear his voice, and they continue to follow him. If one should wander off, the shepherd leaves the flock and goes off in search of the lost sheep to bring it back.

And so, today’s Gospel tells us that we have been given to Jesus by the Father. For it is in Jesus, who is the Way, that we find our way to the Father. It is Jesus, who is Truth and Life, who leads us to the source of all Truth and all Life, God himself.

The sheep recognize the voice of their own shepherd, and they follow him, rather than another. It is the custom, in the Middle East, and in other parts of the world as well, for the shepherds to graze their flocks together during the day, and as the sun goes down, at the end of the day, they gather the sheep in the middle of a meadow, and they stand in a circle at the edges of the field. They begin to call out in a singing voice, and the sheep begin to scatter, each of them coming to its own shepherd. “I know my sheep and they know me. I call to them, and they follow me.”

It is important for us, brothers and sisters, to be aware, as today’s Gospel reminds us, that we have been given by the Father to Jesus as our Good Shepherd. For it is only in and through Jesus, who is the Way, that we can find our way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth and the Life, and only He can lead us to the source of all Truth and Life, to God Himself.

It is important for us to recognize the voice of Jesus as it comes to us in our life. For the voice of Jesus can take many forms. Quite often, it is in the voices of people who come in contact with us in our daily activities. If we do not recognize Christ in the voices we hear, we are likely to get lost; in fact, some of God’s flock – perhaps many – do lose their way. They do not know where their Shepherd is – or perhaps they have wandered so far and have been lost for so long that they no longer have a shepherd.

This brings us to Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also Vocation Sunday. Today, we are asked to pray that more people will consider whether they are being called to join the ranks of priest-shepherds or to the dedicated life of religious sisters and brothers, or to a role of ministry within their own parishes.

Today, we are all being asked to pray, but perhaps we need to do even more. One part of the problem is that all of us need to realize that every Christian, indeed every person, has a vocation. None of us can say, “I don’t have a vocation”, since God has called each of us from the first moment of our existence to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, so that we might be happy with Him forever in the next. Each and every one of us has been called, and continues to be called by God to serve one another in truth and love, and to help make our world a better place for all to live. As we read in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, “out there” there are untold numbers of people who are waiting to hear the message of Truth and Love, but cannot hear, because there are “religious” people bickering among themselves as to whose interpretation of the gospel is the authentic one.

But, as the fellow in that commercial says, “I digress”. The fact that you are committed to a way of life does not mean that you don’t have a vocation. For instance, many people choose a career and only later – almost as a afterthought – say, “I ought to do a retreat and find out what God wants me to do.” Mother Teresa originally responded to be a Sister of Loreto, but the sight of so many poor folks dying in the streets outside her convent led her to rethink what God wanted her to do with her life. She left the convent and started a new congregation devoted to the care of the destitute and the dying. I once knew a young fellow who had a talent for languages who obtained an undergraduate degree in French language and literature, and who planned to settle down in his home town and teach in the local high school. He had just completed a Master’s degree in modern languages when he made a retreat and at the end of the next term, he left the school system to enter the seminary. But that’s not your story – it’s mine. The question here is: What is God saying to ME today, as I hear these readings? And that is a question for each of us.

Each of us is first of all a Christian, a follower of Jesus’ Way. We exercise our calling – our vocation – through our work and through our daily life. Whatever our profession, we are not just a preacher, a teacher, a parent who happens to be Catholic. Beyond that, there is a need – for each of us, according to our abilities – to become more fully involved in the well-being of the society in which we live, and in the Christian community that serves the general society.

We often talk about “the Church”, which is supposed to provide priests, sisters, churches, schools, and the religious, educational and social services we all want and need. We need to be reminded that “the Church” is not something “out there”: it is you and me. It is all too easy for us to adopt a passive attitude – “pray, pay and obey”. Even attendance can be a very passive experience: We watch the priest say Mass, we endure the homily. We get there late and leave early. Is that how to live our vocation?

Vocation literally means “calling”. We need to be reminded that each of us has a definite, specific and personal call from God, based on the circumstances of our lives, and our particular gifts we can use to benefit others. As members of God’s people, some of this service will be done in cooperation with other members of the Christian community. For some, it will mean service at a higher level of commitment, through full-time service as a lay person, a religious, a priest.

Yet, the first and most essential level of awareness is to realize that I have been called – I have a vocation – and with God’s help, to identify the particular way in which I am called to live that vocation. If we all do that conscientiously, we will be going a long way toward solving the shortage of Eucharistic shepherds. Let us all join with Jesus so that, in the words of the Second Reading, we will never hunger or thirst again, nor be plagued by the sun and wind, but be led to springs of living water, where God will wipe away all the tears from our eyes.

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?
+++    +++    +++    +++
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.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Flesh Is True Food, And My Blood Is True Drink. Whoever Eats My Flesh And Drinks My Blood Will Live Forever.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 9:1-20
Saul, still breathing murderous threats
against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus,
that,if he should find any men or women
who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground
and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came,
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city
and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand
and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see,
and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him,
“Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas
for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources
about this man,
what evil things he has done
to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles,
kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him
what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother,
the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you
on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight
and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten,
 he recovered his strength.
He stayed some days
with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once
to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
Today’s reading touches on one of the major turning points in the development of the early Christian community and indeed for the future of the whole Church in centuries to come.

Luke gives three accounts (Acts 9:1-20; 22:5-16; 26:10-18) of this momentous event. The second and third accounts are given in Paul’s own words as parts of discourses he gave. Paul also speaks about the experience in the Letter to the Galatians (1:12-17). The incident took place probably in 36 AD, about 12 years before the council of Jerusalem, which cleared the way for Gentiles to be fully incorporated in the Christian community. The council was held in AD 49.

Saul, we are told, was still breathing “murderous threats” against the “disciples of the Lord”. We know that he was directly implicated in the killing of Stephen but there are hints, by Paul himself, that others died or came very close to it because of his actions (cf. Acts 22:4; 26:10).

His next target were the Christians in Damascus. For this he got letters of authorisation from the high priest, probably Caiaphas. The Sanhedrin had authority over Jews not only in Judea but elsewhere in the diaspora as well. The Romans recognised the high priest’s jurisdiction over the members of the Jewish communities even outside Palestine and, according to 1 Maccabees 15:21, this even included right of extradition.

Damascus was located in the Roman province of Syria and the nearest important city outside of Palestine. It was about 250 km (150 miles) north of Jerusalem and it would have taken four to six days to get there. It had a large Jewish population.

Saul’s mission was to find men and women who “belonged to the Way” and bring them back in shackles to Jerusalem, where they could be tried and perhaps even sentenced to death. “Followers of the Way” is a name for the early Christians and refers to the pattern of life peculiar to the Christians. The term occurs a number of times in the Acts and only there. Jesus, of course, we remember had said: “I am the Way: I am truth and life” (John 14:6).

On his way, Saul was suddenly surrounded by a bright light and fell to the ground. (We are told in Acts 26:13 that it was about noon.)

At the same time, he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” To which Paul replied with another question, “Who are you, Lord?” In the rabbinic tradition, such a disembodied voice would have been understood as the voice of God himself. The solemn repetition of Saul’s name (“Saul, Saul…”) and the bright light suggested to him that he was in the presence of a deity and hence his use of the address, “Lord” (Kyrie).

The reply he gets is: “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Here we have Jesus identifying himself fully with his followers. “As often as you do it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me” (Matthew 25:40). And “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). And in the New Testament letters, it is specifically Paul who will later remind us that the Christian community is the Body of the Risen Christ. To attack the Body is to attack Christ himself. Saul is also told to go into Damascus, where he will be given further instructions.

Saul’s companions could hear what was being said but could not see anything. Saul, meanwhile, rose to his feet unable to see, although his eyes were open. His companions lead the sightless and helpless Saul to the city. The recently all-powerful official is reduced to near impotence. For three whole days he was unable to see and he observed a total fast. The symbolism seems very clear: Saul, who was so confident that he was in possession of the truth, is shown to be very deficient in his vision of the truth.

In the meantime, a Christian called Ananias is told to go to a house in Damascus where Saul will be found praying. He was told to go to Straight Street, which is probably the same long, straight street that still runs through the city from east to west and is in strong contrast to the other numerous winding streets of the city.

Not surprisingly, Ananias is rather reluctant to visit the man who has been arresting Christians right and left. “I have heard about this man… what evil things he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem.” The term “saints” was originally applied to the people of Israel but later became the usual term for Christians. It occurs many times in Paul’s letters. Since God is the Holy One, those are consecrated to his service can be called ‘holy’ also.

But the Lord insists: “You must go! This man is the instrument I have chosen to bring my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I myself shall indicate to him how much he will have to suffer for my name.”

What an extraordinary turn of events! How strange are God’s ways! How often they go contrary to all our presumptions and expectations! The man, the committed Pharisee, who was so set on wiping out the Christian way is to become Jesus’ chosen instrument to spread his name among the non-Jews, hitherto seen as utter infidels. He will become one of the main pillars, together with Peter, as a founder of Christianity. Through his writings, his influence will be enormous in the centuries following, right down to our own. And, in the process, he will pay a high price in personal sacrifice and suffering.

Ananias then goes to the house. He addresses Saul, whom he had been so reluctant to see, as his “brother”. He says he has been sent by the Lord, the same one who appeared to Saul on the road. The Risen Jesus had actually appeared to Saul; it was not a mere vision. It is on this seeing that Saul would base his qualification to be an apostle.

Ananias then lays his hands on Saul giving him the gift of the Spirit of Jesus. Immediately the scales of blindness fall from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. But what he is seeing is now very different from before.

Saul rises up – hints of resurrection and new life – and is baptised. He begins eating again and regains his strength. And, almost immediately, the persecutor of Christians who had been breathing murderous threats, was going to the Jewish synagogues proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.

Again, we see, the strange ways of God. Ananias, the man who “received” Paul into the Christian community, is someone who only appears here and never again. He was, in every other way, a very inconsequential member of the community. He is like most of us in that regard but, like him, God may send a Saul/Paul into our lives too and ask us – insignificant though we feel ourselves to be – to act as the agent to bring this person to God. In the life of every great Church leader or prophet are hundreds of unidentified people who played a crucial role in their becoming what they became.

Paul could now see, but not just physically. He could see the truth about Jesus and the inadequacy of his own previous ideas, however sincerely they may have been held. He was now ready for baptism and, for the first time since his experience on the road to Damascus, he broke his fast.

A completely new chapter in the development of the early Church was about to begin. There is obviously here a great deal for us to reflect on in our own lives, about our way of treating others, about our blindness and our constant need for conversion, and about our responsibility to share our faith with others.
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Psalm 117
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 6:52-59
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh
and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
These things he said
while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
The discussion of Jesus as the Bread of Life continues.

Understandably enough the Jews are deeply shocked at Jesus’ invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It sounds like a primitive recipe for cannibalism. If we were to put ourselves in their shoes and hear those words for the very first time I think that we too would find them very strange, to say the least.

For the Jews it was even more shocking because they had the greatest reverence for, even a fear of, blood. It was the source of life and should never be touched. To come in contact with blood was immediately to become ritually unclean. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), one of the reasons why the priest and the Levite did not come to the help of the injured man lying on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem was almost certainly because he was bleeding and they were on their way to the Temple to pray or offer sacrifice. The woman with the chronic bleeding problem (Mark 5:25-34) did not dare to reveal herself to the crowd or even to Jesus because she should not have been in such close proximity with people. She could have been lynched if they knew.

To this day Jews only eat meat from which the blood has been previously drained (kosher). And here is Jesus inviting, even telling, people to drink his own blood! We have heard these words so often that they have lost their impact.

Yet Jesus makes no apologies for what he has said. On the contrary, he tells his hearers that if they do not eat his flesh and drink his blood, they will not have life. Those who do eat and drink are guaranteed life. Because Jesus’ flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. “Whoever eats me will draw life from me.”

What are we to make of all this? What do the words mean? Obviously they are not to be taken literally. Rather, to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is to assimilate totally into our very being the whole way of thinking and acting of Jesus, the very Person of Jesus. To be able to say with Paul, “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ who lives in me.” “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him.”

Nor are the Body and Blood of Christ only to be understood in the context of ‘receiving communion’ in the Eucharist. Certainly there are Eucharistic references in what Jesus is saying but we need to understand the Eucharist as a sacrament or sign of a much wider relationship with Jesus. The Eucharist is primarily a community celebration of what we are – brothers and sisters who are the Body of Christ for each other and for the whole world. Jesus’ flesh and blood come to us through the Word that we hear during the Eucharistic Liturgy as well as during the sharing of the Bread and the Cup. But Jesus also comes to us through every loving experience that we have in community. The Eucharist is not the whole of our eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ. It is the sacramental celebration pointing to our total experience of meeting Jesus in our lives. It is something which should be happening all through our day wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

They Shall All Be Taught By God? Yet, How Can I Learn, Unless Someone Instructs Me?

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 8:26-40
The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,
“Get up and head south on the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza,
the desert route.”
So he got up and set out.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch,
a court official of the Candace,
that is, the queen of the Ethiopians,
in charge of her entire treasury,
who had come to Jerusalem to worship,
and was returning home.
Seated in his chariot,
he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
The Spirit said to Philip,
“Go and join up with that chariot.”
Philip ran up and heard him
reading Isaiah the prophet, he said,
“Do you understand what you are reading?”
He replied,
“How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him.
This was the Scripture passage he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who will tell of his posterity?
For his life is taken from the earth.

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply,
“I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this?
About himself, or about someone else?”
Then Philip opened his mouth and,
beginning with this Scripture passage,
he proclaimed Jesus to him.
As they traveled along the road
they came to some water,
and the eunuch said,
“Look, there is water.
What is to prevent my being baptized?”
Then he ordered the chariot to stop,
and Philip and the eunuch
both went down into the water,
and he baptized him.
When they came out of the water,
the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away,
and the eunuch saw him no more,
but continued on his way rejoicing.
Philip came to Azotus,
and went about proclaiming the good news
to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Again we meet the deacon Philip, whom we saw yesterday as a very successful preacher of the Gospel to the people of Samaria. The Samaritans were doing so well that Peter and John were now sent to baptise them in the Holy Spirit.

In today’s reading, Philip gets instructions from God to take the desert road to Gaza on the south coast of Palestine, the same place from which comes so much tragic news almost daily on our TV screens. The distance from Jerusalem to Gaza is about 80 km (or 50 miles).

On his way, Philip runs into an Ethiopian eunuch, the finance minister of the queen of Ethiopia, who was on his way back after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Eunuchs were commonly used in positions of seniority and trust, especially where the women of the royal household were concerned. They often became powerful and very rich.

‘Ethiopia’ corresponded in this period to Nubia, from the Upper Nile region at the first cataract (Aswan) to Khartoum. It would now be part of the Sudan. Kandake (Candace) was the traditional title of the queen mother, who was responsible for performing the secular duties of the reigning king. He was thought to be too sacred to have to deal with such administrative chores.

As we are told the eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, it is very likely he was a convert to Judaism or else a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel.

As Philip catches up with him, the man is reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah. It was Isaiah 53:7-8, from the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant which is read at the liturgy on Good Friday and is a text long seen by the Church as pointing to Christ in his passion. It was also the usual practice at the time to read aloud and that is why Philip knew what he was reading.

Philip asked him if he understood the passage. “How can I,” the man replied, “unless someone explains it to me?” This is something we need to acknowledge too. We cannot really understand the meaning of the scriptures unless we have someone explain them to us. We cannot simply expect to know what they mean just by reading nor should we expect that God will directly inspire us. We have to take the natural means available to us, namely, the experience and the knowledge of experts and people of deeper wisdom. The texts are separated from us by language and centuries of custom and lifestyles. Like the eunuch, we need interpreters to help us understand.

Here, the eunuch was quite at a loss to know what the passage was about. “Tell me, if you will, of whom the prophet says this – himself or someone else?” And Philip proceeded to show the official how the words applied to Jesus in his suffering and death and this gave him the opportunity to proclaim the whole message of the Gospel.

So completely won over was the eunuch that, as they passed a stretch of water, he asked to be baptised there and then. In other words, he was expressing his total faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Where was this stretch of water? There are several possibilities – a brook in the Valley of Elah (which David crossed to meet Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:40) or the Wadi el-Hasi, just north of Gaza or it could have been any other suitable stretch of water.

As soon as the baptism was done, Philip disappeared but the eunuch continued on his journey home filled with happiness. This is typical of the joy which is associated in the Acts with salvation.

Meanwhile, Philip’s work of evangelising was not done. He found himself in Azotus. It was one of five Philistine cities about 30 km from Gaza. From there he proceeded north all the way to Caesarea in Syria, a distance of about 100 km. Caesarea had been rebuilt by Herod. With an excellent harbour on the Mediterranean it served as headquarters for the Roman procurators.

We now say goodbye to Philip but he will reappear again some 20 years later, still in Caesarea, still an evangelist and enjoying domestic bliss (Acts 21:8).

As we read this story we might reflect that there will be times when we will be given opportunities to share the Gospel with people who are searching for meaning in their lives. But will we be ready? If someone presents us with a question about a Bible passage or a belief of our Christian faith, will we have the answer? Will we be ready to go beyond the answer and lead our enquirer to a further level of understanding? If not, then, like the eunuch, it may be time for us to take steps to deepen our understanding of the scriptures and of our Christian beliefs.
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Psalm 66
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Bless our God, you peoples,
loudly sound his praise;
He has given life to our souls,
and has not let our feet slip.
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Hear now, all you who fear God,
while I declare what he has done for me.
When I appealed to him in words,
praise was on the tip of my tongue.
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!
Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
John 6:44-51
Jesus said to the crowds:
“No one can come to me
unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.

Everyone who listens to my Father
and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert,
but they died;
this is the bread
that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread
that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my Flesh for the life of the world.”
We continue to read John’s sixth chapter about Jesus as the Bread of Life. Today’s passage largely repeats what has been said already but at the end a new element is introduced.

Jesus reminds us that it is not we who find Jesus but rather it is the Father who finds us and leads us to Jesus as the Way to God. Here Jesus quotes from the Old Testament: “They shall all be taught by God.” Words to be found in Isaiah (54:13) and reminiscent of Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts” (31:33-34).

We see a lovely instance of that in the First Reading today about the eunuch who was led to Jesus by Philip the deacon. What was important here was the readiness and openness of the eunuch to be drawn to the truth.

Jesus again repeats that he is the Bread of Life, using that formal expression ‘I AM’ which points to divine origin. Unlike the manna that the Jews’ ancestors ate in the desert, this Bread comes directly from God and whoever eats it will live forever. Jesus’ challengers were asking for a sign like manna but Jesus says that it did not give real life – those who ate it have all died. The Bread that Jesus will give will bring a never-ending life to those who eat it.

Jesus is the Living Bread because he is the very Word of God and because he offers up his Body and Blood in a sacrifice of love bringing life to the whole world.

And this Bread is his flesh, life-giving flesh. This flesh will be given for the life of the world – a looking forward to Calvary. Giving eternal life will cost the human life of the Giver.

With these words the chapter moves into its eucharistic meaning. The word ‘flesh’ introduces the link between Eucharist and Incarnation. Jesus is the Word made flesh and that Word is the food that we all need to ‘eat’. To ‘eat’ here, while involving actual eating and drinking, really points to the total assimilation into oneself and into a gathered community of the very Spirit of Jesus.

The Eucharist, as we shall see tomorrow, is the great sign of the Christian community by which we both affirm and celebrate our union with Jesus. By our eating of the bread-that-is-flesh we affirm our total adhesion to all that Jesus is and stands for.