5th Sunday of Easter – Year C
Acts 14:21-27 Revelation 21:1-5a John 13:31-33a, 34-35
The Gospel text deserves first consideration of the three lessons today. The Johannine passage follows the presumed Last Supper meal, then the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (including those of Judas), continuing with the lesson in theological reflection on that example of service, then Judas’ departure from the assembly, and finally the bestowal of this “new commandment.” This is an example-based commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” As Jesus had first loved them, that was how and how much they were to love each other. They would see just how much he loved over the next few days. In the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters, we see written indications that this commandment was not always successfully lived among the early Church. Christian history is full of scandalous embarrassments of the failure in charity of every Christian generation in every place, including laity, clergy and religious. Nonetheless, the new commandment remains the Gospel hallmark, the ultimate direction by Jesus to his disciples (us!) as to how to live the Gospel message. Perhaps we still call it the “new commandment” because it has been tried so little as to still be untried! Perhaps we call it “new” because IF we live it, THEN it never becomes ordinary and is always new! The concluding line in today’s second reading finds God’s voice asserting, “I make all things new!” Even though you and I have wrestled to live our faith for years, decades and lifetimes, this command strikes our ears and hearts with a new urgency, a new insight, a new power each and every time we give it thoughtful and prayerful consideration. Who needs to be loved anew by me? Who needs to be reminded that “I love you” because I suddenly remember that Jesus Christ has loved me first? How do I love anew even after a long time of trying to love, both with and without success? Or after a long time of holding a grudge? “As I have loved you, so you also should ...”
The actions of the apostles sometimes brought violent reactions back upon themselves. In today’s text one line in particular must make us very reflective: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” This verse (22) is translated (in the Revised NAB) using the phrase “many hardships.” Another translation uses the phrase “many persecutions.” What is necessary is not that Christians be made to suffer violence by other people in order to enter God’s kingdom, as if to earn admission by suffering. Rather, the necessity is that Christians engage life fully, even in spite of the difficult aspects of life which impose suffering, and so will we live as citizens of God’s kingdom in the here and now. It is theologically, religiously and psychologically off-balance and unhealthy – even self-destructive – to look for and seek out opportunities to be a victim. Such unjust situations will present themselves often enough; we need not contrive them. Paul recognized our important status as citizens of heaven already in Philippians 3. Jesus likewise had preached that “the road to life” was full of difficulties in Matthew 7:13-14. The necessity of engaging the difficulties of life was at the foundation of the Passion Predictions in the Gospels (Mark 8, 9 & 10 and parallels). Jesus defined discipleship to include a willingness to “take up the cross” and follow him. But, about this be clear: deliberate provocation of others into violence at the Gospel message is an unjust perversion of that Gospel we proclaim and an affront to Gospel peace. The good Christian figures out how to deliver or announce the Gospel in ways that others can effectively hear and appreciate, and ultimately embrace and live! Paul was not hesitant to suffer physical abuse or hardship for the Gospel. He fit his era well. We live in a vastly different era, one in which imprisonment, scourging and crucifixion are not normal tools of resistence to the Gospel. Those to whom we preach and to whom we give example are not emperors or pagan tyrants, but rather our families, neighbors, friends and strangers. A virtuous, noble, consistently just and compassionate Gospel life lived in spite of the travails of life, is usually the best witness we can give. Many today have misdefined the word “martyr.” It does not primarily mean to die for the Gospel. It means, literally, “to give witness to” the Good News, i.e., to live the Good News and be ready to explain and teach about it when others notice it, wonder about it, and are attracted by it. Should this come about, then you will have occasion to call together your Church fellowship to report how God has been active in your life and in opening the door of faith through you for others.
Today’s passage from the Book of Revelation is found near the book’s end. It describes the ultimate goal of all Christians, and of John’s own goal in the lengthy vision he has just related. A new heaven, a new earth, a new Jerusalem – these are all labels for the mystery of God’s true presence. In the Gospel narratives, Jesus preached about “the kingdom of God” in dozens of parables. Often these parables began with the phrase “the kingdom of God is like...” The point across all these texts was that no one knew, grasped or comprehended what God’s final presence really was. We describe it usually as a “place” in the “next world” in “eternity.” The trouble is that we have no idea how to describe anything outside of our space and time, outside of our own here and now. Neither did the ancients. Perhaps the best we can do intellectually is to admit that we best describe God as “the divine mysterious reality.” But, that doesn’t convey any sense of love, wisdom, justice, compassion, power, might, life or peace. So, we use these images drawn from human experiences and human imaginations. John, the human author of the Book of Revelation, was constantly surprised at the visions he saw and heard in this book. We must likewise be willing to encounter surprise when we finally die and meet God. The promise of God and Jesus together is “I make all things new.” That with which we are familiar is the old; that which God ultimately reveals yet to be will be the new and eternal life.
Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!!