Monthly Archives: April 2016

1 May 2016: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 15:1-2, 22-29  Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8  Rev 21:10-14, 22-23  Jn 14:23-29

 

Resurrection gifts to the church and disciples

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on the ekklesia–the believing community, or the church.

The first reading from Acts describes the so-called “council of Jerusalem” held in 49 AD. The ekklesia leadership met to resolve a difficult question raised by Paul’s mission to the gentiles: could non-Jews (the uncircumcised) be part of Jesus’ believing community? After some debate, the leaders–under the Spirit’s guidance–decided the ekklesia must include the gentiles without requiring circumcision. Jews and gentiles are equal co-heirs to God’s kingdom and Jesus’ resurrection promises.

The second reading from the book of Revelation presents a vision of God’s kingdom at the end of history. John describes his vision of the new Jerusalem–the ekklesia or believing community. The city doesn’t need the sun or moon to give light; God’s glory or splendor (see last week’s reflection) illuminates it. The Lamb, a lampstand (Jn 8:2) of glory, also lights the believing community. The city/ekklesia is founded on the apostles (the twelve courses of stone) and is the new people of God, but it stands in continuity with Israel (the twelve gates, angels, and tribes).

Today’s gospel from John continues Jesus’ testament or farewell discourse. Jesus promises his disciples and the believing community these gifts:

  • Indwelling: Jesus promises the disciples (the ones who love him and keep his word) that Jesus and the Father will make their dwelling with them. In this promise, Jesus connects his earlier statements that he and the Father are one (Jn 10:30), and that, although he is leaving the disciples (Jn 13:33), he will remain-in-relationship with them.
  • The paraclete (advocate): Jesus also promises the disciples that the Father will send an advocate (or paraclete) to teach and remind them. In Greek and Roman courts, a paraclete (παράκλητος, “someone called to another’s side”) assisted a person during a trial–by giving counsel, pleading that person’s cause, or interceding with the judge. The paraclete’s courtroom context fits nicely with John’s themes of trial and judgement. The Spirit acts as counselor for the disciples, gives them comfort and help when the world persecutes them, leads them to a deeper understanding of Jesus, and enables them to bear witness to the Word.
  • Peace: Jesus blesses his disciples with his peace. This peace is not the world’s fleeting peace, but the biblical promise of shalom–which means “peace, well-being, everything-is-right.” Jesus’ own shalom comes from his relationship with the Father; Jesus now invites and draws his disciples into that same shalom relationship through the Spirit’s indwelling.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings present stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. We, the believing community, are God’s own creation, heirs to Israel and to the apostles. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we remain-in-relationship with Jesus and the Father, supported by the Spirit, and enjoy a shalom the world doesn’t know. Jesus gives these gifts to his ekklesia and his disciples. Do we acknowledge these gifts? Do we use them?

—Terence Sherlock

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24 April 2016: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 14:21-27  Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13  Rev 21:1-5a  Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35

 

The kingdom: revealing and glorifying God

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s readings focus on the kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection.

The first reading from Acts describes the concluding leg and return trip of Paul and Barnabas. Paul tells new disciples throughout Asia Minor that they will “undergo hardships to enter the kingdom.” Paul speaks from experience–just before today’s passage (Acts 14:19), Jews from Pisidia and Iconium stone Paul and leave him for dead. Back in Syrian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas report to the believing community who sent them that the mission is a success. “What God had done” with Paul and Barnabas, not their own efforts, opened “the door of faith to the gentiles.”

The second reading from the book of Revelation presents a vision of God’s kingdom at the end of history. The great battle between Christ and the satanic beasts (Rev 19:11–22:5) destroys most of the earth and heavens. God creates a new heaven and earth, and a new Jerusalem, in which God is constantly present, living among all humans. This vision offers hope to all who live with death, suffering, and pain in the present. In the new kingdom, God-with-us wipes away our tears. With Jesus’ resurrection, the former fallen world has passed away.

Today’s gospel from John marks the start of Jesus’ testament or farewell discourse, a literary form used throughout the Hebrew scripture (for examples, see Jacob in Gen 49, Moses in Dt 33, and David in 2 Sm 23). Jesus leaves his disciples with two ideas:

  • Glorification of the Father and of Jesus: In Hebrew scripture, God’s glory is a visible manifestation that reveals God’s presence: for example, the fire of the burning bush, the fire and cloud that leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, the smoke and lightening on Mt Sinai, the brilliant light around the Ark of the Covenant, and the light that fills the Jerusalem Temple. When Jesus talks about glorifying the Father, John connects Jesus with the one-coming-down from heaven who reveals the Father. Through his life of obedience and cross, Jesus reveals and glorifies the Father. Through Jesus’ resurrection, God reveals and glorifies Jesus.
  • A new commandment: Although the commandment to love is not new (Lv 19: 18), Jesus adds two requirements. First, the disciples’ love (ἀγαπάω) must be the same radical, self-giving love that Jesus shows for his disciples–by dying and rising for them. Second, the disciples must extend this ἀγαπάω to all other Christian disciples. This love-in-action reveals the disciples as Jesus’ followers, just as Jesus’ love-in-action reveals and glorifies the Father and reveals and glorifies Jesus as God’s son.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings present stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. God’s kingdom is hard-won. Jesus’ death-and-resurrection brings the kingdom, revealing the glory of the Father and the Son. We reveal the kingdom in our discipleship, loving one another. Does our loving discipleship reveal an end of death, suffering, and pain? Or do we expect others to bring the kingdom?

—Terence Sherlock

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17 April 2016: Fourth Sunday of Easter [Good Shepherd Sunday]

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 13:14, 43-52  Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5  Rev 7:9, 14b-17  Jn 10:27-30

 

Discipleship: invitations, tents, being shepherded

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week’s Good Shepherd Sunday readings focus on discipleship with the resurrected Jesus.

The first reading from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles describes Paul’s first missionary success. The gentiles eagerly accepted Paul’s message, and “all who were destined for eternal life came to believe.” Luke’s divine passive (“came to believe”) reminds us that God, not Paul, makes disciples. Luke contrasts the synagogue leaders’ attitude (“filled with jealousy”) with the disciples’ attitude (“filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”)

The second reading from John of Patmos’ book of Revelation describes how God, “the one who sits on the throne,” cares for God’s people: John uses the word σκηνόω (skay-NO-oh), which means “to pitch a tent over.” John may be thinking of the Hebrew people’s Tent of Meeting where God was present with them, protecting the Israelites during their desert journey. In the Promised Land, this tent became the Jerusalem Temple. In Revelation, the heavenly Jerusalem has no Temple because God is always present among the people. God’s presence brings peace, perfectly described as “no hunger or thirst, no burning heat.” In the same way, the Lamb leads (literally “shepherds”) his people to springs of living water.

The gospel from John the Evangelist echoes Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10: 1-18). Just before today’s reading (Jn 10:22-26), Jesus and the temple authorities clash about faith and unbelief. Jesus sums up the faith of discipleship:

  • What is discipleship? Jesus’ disciples follow him because he “knows them:” Jesus remains in a personal relationship with his disciples.
  • The Lamb who shepherds: Jesus leads his disciples to the pastures of “eternal life” (literally “unceasing life”). They shall never perish spiritually or, ultimately, in any other way. (See the second reading.)
  • Jesus and the Father: Jesus can bless and protect his disciples because of his relationship with the Father, who is “greater than all.” The Father and Jesus “are one” in their position and their action toward their disciples. The Father and Jesus act with the same oneness because, with the Spirit, they share one divine nature. The good shepherd leads his disciples to the pastures of God’s Trinitarian life.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings present stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. The believing community exists because God invites each of us into a joy-filled relationship. God is divinely and humanly present with us; God leads us and supports us. God knows us and wants us to know and to live God’s deep Trinitarian life. Do we accept God’s unwarranted and unexpected invitation? Can we give up self enough to be shepherded? Will we allow ourselves to know the resurrected life?

—Terence Sherlock

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10 April 2016: Third Sunday of Easter

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41  Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13  Rev 5:11-14  Jn 21:1-19

 

Jesus, revealed but often unseen

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on recognizing the resurrected Jesus.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the growing conflict between the Jewish leaders and the apostles over their preaching. Peter and the apostles declare to the Sanhedrin that they “must obey God rather than men.” Peter and the apostles’ discipleship (“those who obey God”) is rooted in their witness to Jesus’ life and in the Spirit’s continuing presence.

The second reading from John of Patmos’ Revelation is a vision of the heavenly liturgy. Everyone and everything in the universe praises and worships God (“the one sitting on the throne”) and Jesus (“the Lamb who was slain”). The entire cosmos recognizes the Lamb, who is worthy to receive “honor and glory and blessing.”

The gospel from John the evangelist presents Jesus’ last post-resurrection appearance in two scenes: the first with fish, and the second with sheep.

  • A fish story: As in other post-resurrection stories (Lk 24:13-49, Jn 20: 19-31), the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Why is this? Is Jesus’ resurrected body completely different? The gospel authors, writing fifty years after the resurrection, tell us that Jesus reveals himself in biblical signs–such as messianic abundance (the miraculous catch of fish)–and liturgical gestures–such as the eucharist (the breaking and distributing of the bread). John reminds the believing community that Jesus is present among us when we see and experience sacramental signs: water, oil, bread, wine, and words.
  • A sheep story: Jesus invites Peter, who recently denied knowing Jesus, to restore his broken relationship. Peter, again before a charcoal file (see Jn 18: 18), is asked three times if he loves Jesus. Peter responds three times, “Yes, Lord, you know I am fond of you.” Jesus initiates this difficult conversation with Peter, forgives him, and honors him with the responsibility for caring for Jesus’ flock. Only after Peter expresses his metanoia (change of mind/heart), Jesus invites Peter to follow him. Like Peter, everyone’s discipleship depends on a personal relationship with Jesus. When we break that relationship, Jesus appears and invites us to return. This final scene with Peter tells us that no matter what we do, Jesus is ready to forgive us completely and forever.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings present stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. Jesus reveals himself in the witness of his disciples, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, and in our own personal encounters with the Lord. But we have to look, to gather, to be present, and to “dare to ask.” Do we recognize Jesus? Do we try to see him? Do we even look?

—Terence Sherlock

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3 April 2016: Second Sunday of Easter [Divine Mercy Sunday]

 

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Acts 5:12-16  Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24  Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19  Jn 20:19-31

 

The peace of the resurrected Lord

The Easter season readings ask us, the believing community, to examine the meaning of the resurrection. This week the readings focus on the resurrected Jesus and his gifts to the believing community.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a snapshot of the post-Pentecost believing community. “Great numbers,” says Luke, “were added to the believers.” Luke uses the divine passive (“were added”) to remind us that it is God’s action, not the believing community’s action, that brings new members. Catechumens do not act on their own–God incorporates them into the ekklesia. Faith in Jesus is a gift that builds up the community.

The second reading from Revelation is the start of John of Patmos’ vision. John sees one “like a son of man” who says “Do not be afraid” and identifies himself as “the one who lives,” who “once was dead but now is alive forever.” This Resurrected one–Jesus–holds power (the keys) over death and nothingness. Freedom from fear is another gift from Jesus to the believing community.

The gospel from John the evangelist presents two of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances: the first without Thomas, and the second that includes Thomas. We often overlook the first appearance’s gifts:

  • Peace be with you: Jesus’ shalom (“peace”) is the eschatological reconciliation between God and humans. Jesus’ blessing brings the disciples into communion with the Father and drives out the disciples’ fear. (See the second reading.) Jesus’ gift of peace completes his Last Supper prayer of not letting our “hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27).
  • He showed them his hands and side: Jesus’ wounds show that his resurrected body is the same body that was crucified. He is forever fixed in the act of love in which he died. In the sacrament of Baptism we share this same death and are forever marked with the sign of God’s adoption; we receive the gift of membership in God’s kingdom.
  • He breathed on them: This is John’s version of Pentecost. Jesus’ breath recalls God’s creative breath that brought Adam to life (Gen 2:7). Jesus’ breath gives the believing community the gift of the Holy Spirit, who unites the disciples and us to the risen Jesus and makes us a “new creation.” This gift of the Spirit remains with us in the sacrament of Confirmation. Jesus also gives the disciples his own power over sin. As Luke did in the first reading, John also uses the divine passive (“are forgiven them” and “are held”) to remind us that it is God who acts through the ekklesia to forgive sin. Jesus’ gift of forgiveness remains with us in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Jesus’ resurrection has many meanings and many implications. The church’s Easter season gives us six weeks to reflect on this one cosmos-changing event; the Lectionary’s readings present stories, poems, songs, and visions to help us understand Easter from many viewpoints–lived human experience, mystery, faith, sacraments, theology. Sometimes we think Easter is over when we finish the last chocolate egg. But Easter is too important and too mysterious to ever be over. The resurrected Jesus remains with us in the continuing gifts of faith, the Spirit, the ekklesia, and sacraments.

–Terence Sherlock

 

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