5th Sunday of Easter – Year A
- First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
- Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:4-9
You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
- Gospel Reading: John 14:1-12
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me…. I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
The passage in today’s Gospel is taken from the first of three farewell speeches pronounced by Jesus at the Last Supper after Judas went out to implement his intention of treason. They are called so because in them Jesus seems to dictate his last will, before facing his passion and death.
The liturgy makes them ponder after Easter for a very simple reason: a testament opens and acquires its meaning only after the death of the person who dictated it. The words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper were not restricted to the apostles in the upper room but addressed to the disciples of all times. Easter is the most suitable time to understand and meditate on them.
The passage today begins with a phrase that could be misunderstood: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms; otherwise, I would not have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. After I have gone and prepared a place for you, I shall come again and take you to me. Yet you know the way where I am going” (vv. 2-4).
Jesus seems to be saying that the time for him to go to heaven has come. He promises that there he will prepare a place for his disciples.
This explanation is unsatisfactory because we believe that everything is already set in heaven for a long time. Then the idea of the numbered seat, corresponding to the various degrees of reward, with the danger that someone might not also have a place to stay, does not enthuse at all.
The meaning of the sentence is different. It is much more concrete and relevant for us and for the life of our communities.
Jesus says he has to go through a difficult “path.” He adds that his disciples would have to know very well that “way” because he often spoke of it.
Thomas replies on behalf of all: we do not know this “way” and we cannot guess where you want to go.
Jesus explains: he himself will be the first to run the “way.” Once his mission is accomplished, he will be back and will take the disciples with him. He will infuse them with his courage and strength, so they will be enabled to follow in his footsteps.
What the “way” is, is now clear: It is the difficult path toward Easter. It demands the sacrifice of life. Jesus talked about it many times, but the disciples were always reluctant to understand. When he insisted on the “gift of life,” they preferred to be distracted, thinking about something else.
In this perspective, the question about “the seats in the Father’s house” becomes clear. Whoever has agreed to follow the “way” traveled by Jesus, finds himself immediately in the Kingdom of God, in the Father’s house. This house is not paradise, but the Christian community. There are many places, that is, many services, many tasks to be performed in it.
There are many ways in which the gift of one’s life takes form. The “many places” are nothing but the “various ministries,” the different situations in which everyone is required to make available to the brethren one’s own capacity, the many gifts received from God.
Until the Second Vatican Council, the laity was not considered active members of the Church. They did not participate but “assisted” in the Eucharist; they did not celebrate reconciliation, they went to “receive” the absolution. They were often idle spectators of what the priests were doing. Today we understand that every Christian should be active, not for the shortage of priests, but for the fact that everyone has work to do within the community.
Jesus says that in the course of the ministry, there could be no motives for envy and jealousy. The “places,” that is, the services to be rendered to the brethren are many. The only one who is not yet shaken by the newness of life, communicated by faith in the Risen Lord, may remain idle.
In civil society, the place is assessed on the basis of power, the social prestige that confers the money with which it is paid for. The question: “What do you do?” is equivalent to “How much do you earn?”
The place prepared by Jesus and for each one is instead evaluated based on service: the better “place” is where one can serve more and better for the community.
The passage is a call for verification of community life: what is the percentage of active members? Are there commitments that no one wants to take? Are there competitions to grab for oneself the responsibility of any assignment? Of the many “jobs” prepared by Jesus, are there still many undiscovered ones? Are there “unemployed” people? Why?
The second part of today’s Gospel (vv. 8-12) is centered on the question of Philip: “Lord, show us the Father and that is enough.”
“Let me see your glory,” Moses asked the Lord, and God answered him: “You cannot see my face because man cannot see me and live” (Ex 33:18,20).
While conscious of this inability to contemplate the Lord, the pious Israelites continued to implore: “I seek your face, O Lord. Do not hide your face from me” (Ps 27:8-9); “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I go and see the face of God?” (Ps 42:3
“Let me see your glory,” Moses asked the Lord, and God answered him: “You cannot see my face because man cannot see me and live” (Ex 33:18,20).
While conscious of this inability to contemplate the Lord, the pious Israelites continued to implore: “I seek your face, O Lord. Do not hide your face from me” (Ps 27:8-9); “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When shall I go and see the face of God?” (Ps 42:3).
Philip seems to be an interpreter of this intimate yearning of the human heart. He knows that “no one has ever seen God” (Jn 1:18), because “he lives in unapproachable light and whom no one has seen or can see”(1 Tim 6:16); but also recalls the bliss reserved for the pure in heart: “for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8) and thinks that Jesus can satisfy his secret aspiration. He presents such a demand that seems to echo those expressed by Moses and by the psalmists.
In his response, Jesus shows the way to see God. One needs to look at him. He is the human face that God has taken to manifest himself, to establish a relationship of intimacy, friendship, and communion of life with people. He is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), “the radiance of God’s glory and bears the stamp of God’s hidden being” (Heb 1:3).
To know the Father, there is no need to make arguments or reasoning. It is not worth it to get lost in inadequate philosophical investigations. It is sufficient to contemplate Jesus, to observe what he does, says, teaches how one behaves, loves, whom he prefers and attends to, caresses and from whom he lets himself be caressed, with whom he dines, he chooses, defends … because the Father does so. The works that Jesus fulfill are those of the Father (v.10).
There’s a time when the Father fully revealed his face: on the cross. There he reveals his supreme love for people. The “radiance of his glory” (Heb 1:3) fully appears. There, his “light shines” (2 Cor 4:6) in its fullness.
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus affirms (v. 9). But this seeing is not reduced to the gaze of one who witnessed the events, the facts, the concrete gestures carried out by him. It is a gaze of faith that is required, a look that can go beyond appearances, beyond the purely material datum, a look that captures the revelation of God in the works of Jesus.
This seeing is equivalent to believing.
Who sees the Father in him, who grants him full confidence and is prepared to risk one’s life on the values proposed by him, will do the same works and will do even greater ones. It is not about miracles, but the total gift of self for love.The Father will continue to realize in the disciples the works of love that he has accomplished in Jesus.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar
Praying is going with Jesus to the Father who will give us everything
In this passage of the Gospel (see Jn 14:1-14), Jesus’s farewell discourse, Jesus says that He is going to the Father. And He says that He will be with the Father, and that also those who believe in Him “will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me anything in my name, and I will do it” (vv. 12-14). We can say that this passage of the Gospel of John is the declaration of ascent to the Father.
The Father was always present in Jesus’s life , and Jesus spoke about Him. Jesus prayed to the Father. And many times, He spoke about the Father who cares for us, as He cares for the birds, the lilies of the field… the Father. And when the disciples asked to learn how to pray, Jesus taught them to pray to the Father: “Our Father” (Mt 6:9). He always addresses the Father. But in this passage it is very strong; it is also as if He opened the doors of the omnipotence of prayer. “Because I am with the Father: ask me and I will do anything. Because the Father will do it with me” (see Jn 14:11). This trust in the Father, trust in the Father who is capable of doing everything, This courage to pray, because it takes courage to pray! It takes the same courage, the same boldness it takes to preach: the same. Let us think of our father Abraham, when he – I think the right word is – “negotiated” with God to save Sodom (see Gen 18:20-33: “And if there were fewer? And fewer? And fewer…? He truly knew how to negotiate. But always with this courage: “Excuse me, Lord, but give me a discount: a bit less, a bit less…”. Always the courage of struggling in prayer, because praying is struggling: struggling with God. And then, Moses: the two occasions that the Lord wanted to destroy the people (see Ex 32:1-35 and Nm 11:1-3), and to make him the leader of another people, Moses said “No!”. And he said “No” to the Father! With courage! But if you go and pray like this [whispers a timid prayer] – this is a lack of respect! Praying is going with Jesus to the Father who will give you everything. Courage in prayer, boldness in prayer. The same that it takes to preach.
And we have heard in the first Reading about that conflict in the early times of the Church (see Acts 6:1-7), because the Christians of Greek origin were grumbling, complaining – they were already doing it back then: it is obvious that it is one of the Church’s habits – they were complaining that their widows, their orphans were not well cared for; the apostles did not have the time to do many things. And Peter [with the apostles], enlightened by the Holy Spirit, “invented”, let’s put it that way, the deacons. “Let’s do something: let’s look for seven people who are good and these men can take care of the service” (see Acts 6:2-4). The deacon is the one who takes care of service, in the Church. “And so these people, who are right to complain, have their needs taken care of, and we”, Peter says, we heard him, “and we can devote ourselves to prayer and the proclamation of the Word” (see v. 5). This is the bishop’s task: praying and preaching. With this power that we heard in the Gospel: the bishop is the first who goes to the Father, with the trust that Jesus gave him, with courage, with parrhesia, to fight for his people. The first task of a bishop is to pray. Peter said so: “And to us, prayer and the proclamation of the Gospel”.
I knew a priest, a holy parish priest, good, who when he found a bishop, greeted him well, very amiably, and always asked the question: “Your Excellency, how many hours a day do you pray?”, and he always said, “Because your first task is to pray”. Because it is the prayer of the head of the community, interceding to the Father so that He may safeguard the people.
The prayer of the bishop, the first task: to pray. And the people, seeing the bishop pray, learn to pray. Because the Holy Spirit teaches us that it is God who does things. We do very little but it is He who “does things” in the Church, and prayer is what makes the Church progress. And therefore the heads of the Church, so to speak, the bishops, must persevere in prayer.
Peter’s word in this case is prophetic: “May the deacons do all this, so that the people are taken care of well, their problems are solved and their needs met. But to us, bishops, prayer and the proclamation of the Word”.
It is sad to see good bishops, good people, but busy with many things, the finances, with this, that and the other… Prayer must take first place. Then the other things. But when the other things take away space from prayer, then something is not right. And prayer is strong because of what we have heard in the Gospel of Jesus. It is “because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn 14:12-13). Thus the Church progresses in prayer, in the courage of prayer because the Church knows that without this ascent to the Father, she cannot survive.
Sunday, 10 May 2020
From fear to courageous proclamation of the Risen Christ
Romeo Ballan mccj
The words of the Gospel are like the dictation of a will, which Jesus entrusts to His disciples during the long farewell discourse following the Last Supper (Jn.13:31-17:26). It is an inheritance that Jesus leaves to his disciples as a precious teaching, only hours before he enters his way (v. 4,6): the way of the Cross-Death-Resurrection. A will and an inheritance which, as in everyone’s life, do not become effective until the death of the one who makes them. In the case of Jesus, there is a difference: it is not the will of a dead person, but of a living one. That is why the liturgy reveals this ‘last will and testament’ to us on Sundays after the Pasch of Jesus, letting us taste them as the living word of the Risen One. In the first place, it is a message of comfort and of hope to the community of the faithful, so that they are not troubled, but strong in faith (v. 1) and ready to follow in the steps of the Master on his way: the journey towards Easter, towards the Father’s House. However, the Father’s House is not Paradise at once; first of all it is the community of believers, where there are “many rooms”; to where Jesus has gone ahead of us, to prepare a place for us (v. 2-3); where the places, the tasks and the services to undertake are numerous; where the best place is the one that enables us to serve others more and better.
It means brother helping brother, washing each other’s feet (Jn.13:14), without titles of class, honour or prestige… That was the ideal and the powerful witness of the first Christian community, in which the only difference, recognised by all, right from the beginning, is the difference of service (or ministry) required and offered in the community. It is an exciting missionary theme. The message of the Gospel this Sunday and the experiences of the first Christian community (1st and 2nd Reading) shed a precious light on the mission of the Church. The book of Acts (1st Reading) presents a picture of missionary difficulties that are concrete and frequent: they regard the growth in numbers, the cultural differences within the community (v.1 brings up the conflict between Hebrews and Hellenists, with social and economical undercurrents), the organisation of assistance to those in need… The solution comes from criteria that are fundamental for the carrying out of mission: wide consultation within the group (v. 2), looking for people full of the Spirit and of wisdom (v. 3,5), the definition of the ministries (v. 3,4,6) of deacons (service at the tables) and of the Twelve Apostles (preaching and service of the Word).
Nowadays we would say that the solution has been found thanks to a joint and plural exercise of authority: in a way that is both collegial and ministerial, thus allowing action that is culturally pluralistic and also decentralised. The Church of Jerusalem came out of that episode more mature, enriched with new energy for apostolate, more open to the cultural needs of the various groups. It was an exemplary solution that had an immediate effect in the spreading of missionary activity; “the word of the Lord continued to spread, the number of disciples was greatly increased.” (v. 7)
Solutions of that type are truly fitting for a people that St. Peter (2nd Reading) calls royal, holy, chosen by God (v. 9), called to set themselves close to “the Lord, the living stone”, thus becoming a people made up of “living stones” (v. 4-5). Here we return to the topic of the roles and services in the house of God: it is not important whether they are stones on the façade or stones hidden in the foundations. St. Daniel Comboni urged this on his missionaries: “a missionary works in an undertaking that is of the highest worth, but extremely arduous and laborious, to be a stone hidden underground, that will perhaps never come to light, but which forms part of the foundations of a new and colossal edifice, that only future generations will see peeping out of the ground (Rules, 1871: cf. Writings 2701). What is important is to be part of the community of the disciples and be active in the service of the mission of Christ the Saviour, welcoming and showing solidarity with people who are far away, strangers, alone…
Jesus did not come to take suffering away from us, but to give us the strength to face the deep fear of sickness, of the future, of solitude, of death… “God did not come to explain suffering; he came to fill it with his presence” (Paul Claudel). In his words to his disciples (Gospel) Jesus tells them not to be troubled by fears (v. 1). He urges them to believe in Him, who is “the way, the truth and the life” (v. 6). He speaks about his unity with the Father, to the point that the one who has seen Him has seen the Father (v. 9). Jesus is the first missionary of the Father: he has proclaimed Him and revealed Him by word and deed (v. 11). Here arises the fundamental question for the mission in every age: whose task is it to reveal the Father and reveal Jesus, whom the Father sent to be the Saviour of the world? The permanent challenge for a Christian is to be able to say: whoever sees my life and listens to my words sees the Father, sees Christ! The roots and the scope of the missionary character of every baptised person lie here.