Acts 10:25 – 26, 34-35, 44-48
In Acts 10 the author as a third person reported recounts that happened in Peter’s speech to Cornelius (a pious Roman centurion), the Jewish people and the Gentiles. The big questions were: Were Christians bound by the Jewish rules? Should the Gentiles be received without first becoming Jews (i.e. being circumcised)? This was never resolved in Jesus’ lifetime. It makes one consider how many try to resolve issues today in the church using Jesus’ words and deeds. If Jesus did not solve the most fundamental question of the Christian mission, we may well doubt that his recorded words solve most of our subsequent debated problems in the church (Brown, R., A Once-and-Coming Spirit at Pentecost, pgs. 61-62).
God shows no partiality. The root of all the readings this week (and always with the Word!) is love. How often do we feel completely affirmed to the core of our being? Do we ever get to a point where we have arrived in feeling absolutely loved and accepted for who we are? Are we worthy? We have a deep desire to be loved. Carl Jung said, “What we’re about as humans is a constant and consistent movement toward wholeness.” We are wired to be connected with something that is other and beyond. As St. Augustine said, “My soul is restless until it rest in you, O God.” This love that is God is offered to all, with no partiality.
1 John 4:7-10
From Creighton University Online Ministries:
I like to think, and I pray God’s fingerprints are on me and the prints I leave behind are just as noticeably God’s prints. For me, leaving behind a trail of God’s fingerprints is not easy, but God’s prints are readily identifiable. It is God who intrudes and rifles my heart. It is God who sets things right. God dwells among us. God dwells in me. God’s fingerprints are everywhere. Just like fingerprints on a window can only be seen in the light, I also have to stand where the light can shine through me. God’s love-ly fingerprints are smeared and permanently stuck to me. How do you leave your love-ly fingerprints?
We do not earn God’s love, and we do not initiate love and goodness ourselves. Everything comes from God…freely given; we can accept or reject. (At Home with the Word, p. 87) Can you think of times when you have accepted or rejected God’s love in your life? The love in the Trinity is the love that God wants to have with us. It completes the circle. Jesus came to be one with us…completely human. To the point that he calls us His friends. He chooses us. How does that make you feel? This love for one another brings life…IN ABUNDANCE! But what Jesus is telling us isn’t just a warm, fuzzy feeling…it is a commandment: love one another. Can all of us do that, all the time? “The relationality of the three bonded in the one Love spills over into a relationality with the world, thereby making it possible for human persons to enter into this communion in the one Love, “ (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 60). We are meant to be intertwined with God in God’ Trinity. How do we do that?
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31
Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is. The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation. As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise. We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)
For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.
Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas. The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him. It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown). Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit. Aren’t these related? When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us. When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way. Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25). Do you find this to be true in your life?
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24
Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of ‘salvation’ if they follow the command to love one another. Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another. Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)
Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words. Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness. (Celebration, May 2000)
The Gospel – John 15: 1-8
The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”
is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John. Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?
The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God. One of the ‘glories’ of the temple was a great golden vine upon the front of the Holy Place. Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)
John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people. Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love: the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love. Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.” Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus. We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Love forgives a multitude of sins. We need to examine where love is lacking in our parishes. M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 387-388
For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)
1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 4: 8-12
Acts show us just how radically Jesus’ followers have been transformed by His risen presence. Before, fear ruled their behavior; now they are courageous. They boldly proclaim Christ crucified and risen; in that process they too enter into the cycle of dying and rising. Only the power of the risen Christ and his Spirit could bring about such a profound change in their lives. (Birmingham, W& W Workbook, 376)
The word for cornerstone in Greek could be more correctly translated as the head of a corner or the capstone or keystone. When building arches, Romans first constructed the two sides of the arch; the last stone to be set in place was the capstone which joined the sides assuring stability and endurance. This capstone was a powerful symbol for Christ for the early Christians. (Celebration, May 2003)
The name of a person is more than just an artificial ‘tag’ to tell one person from another. A name represents the fullness of a person. If we do something in someone’s name, we do it as that person would do it. As a Christian we are to act as Christ, to act in his name. To live this way is to find salvation (fullness of health). Salvation in the name of Jesus is not a ‘magic thing.’ It is a way of life. It is a way of love.
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-2
We are children of God. By nature we are a creatures of God, but it is by grace that we are children of God. It is like comparing paternity and fatherhood (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 73-74). It is one thing to be created, and something entirely endearing and intimate to family. We are called into this kind of relationship to God. How do we answer? How does God reveal Godself to you? When you sense this, do you feel more like a child of God? Take some prayful time to sit with these words and mull the questions.
The Gospel– John 10: 11-18
Imagine the scene. It is first-century Palestine. Each day the shepherd would take his flock out into the desert for the day’s grazing only to return to the sheepfold, a common enclosure with a low stone wall and gated entrance. At day’s end the shepherds would bring their sheep to the fold to keep them safe from the dangers of the night: wolves and thieves. Each night a shepherd was designated to lie down in front of the sheepgate so no one could enter without having to pass him first. He was the protector of the flock – with his very life if need be. Each morning all the shepherds would return to this enclosure. Each shepherd would whistle or call out the names of their sheep. The sheep would know the sound of their own shepherd – they would not respond to anyone else. Their shepherd would then lead them out to safely graze in the pasture; the sheep always followed their shepherd,
Jesus is the model Good Shepherd. He cares for his sheep; they know his voice and respond to his voice. There is ownership. Jesus knows his sheep; he knows them by name. He is in loving relationship with them, willing to lay down his life for their good. We are to know Jesus’ voice and trust him unto death.
The early church adopted this image of shepherd for their leaders also. Like Christ, the leaders were to nourish and safeguard the flock. The word pastor was derived from this image. (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 378- 379)
1st Reading: Acts of the Apostles 3: 13-19
Jesus is called the “author of life” – what does that mean for you? Mary Birmingham points out that this term is a very ancient Christian term. The Greek word for ‘author’ means “captain” or “leader.” Jesus is the new leader, the new captain of life’s vessel, who leads the people, just like Moses, out of bondage into a new promised land – Jesus is the fulfillment of the liberation foreshadowed at the Exodus event – Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God has ever planned for humankind. (W&W Wrkbk Yr B, 363-364)
St. John of the Cross said, “The soul lives where it loves.” Think about that. Jesus lived here among us because of love. And that is why he died too. Are we supposed to feel this tremendous guilt that Jesus had to do this for us? I don’t know if God wants us to feel that way. Jesus only reaches out in love, only wants to repent and turn to him. He doesn’t want us wallowing in our guilt and self-loathing. He wants us to embrace the love. Let our souls live in that love. How can we be different living that way?
2nd Reading: 1 John 2: 1-5
What does it mean to you to call Jesus an “Advocate” – a parakletos ? An advocate is someone who pleads our case before a court of law – one who intercedes for us. It is someone whom we call to be by our side as our helper and counselor. It is someone who “lends his presence to his friends.” Jesus is this kind of friend. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 36-38)
Jesus is also called our ‘expiation’ for sin – here we must be careful of the meaning. In the Jewish sense, sacrifice was used to restore our relationship with God. It was God forgiving us and providing the means of restoring our relationship with God. Scholars also point out that the word could be translated as ‘disinfection’: Jesus shows us what God is like and disinfects us from the taint of sin – from the darkness and bondage of sin. Jesus is the reconciliation, the means, by which God reassures us of His love. And as this writer, John, sees it – this work of Jesus is carried out not just for us, but for the whole world.
The love of God is broader than the measures of our human mind. God’s salvation has wide enough arms for all. (Wm Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, 39-40))
The Gospel: Luke 24: 35-48
From Living Liturgy, 2003, 120:
Jesus “was made known” in the breaking of the bread and in repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness, then, is an encounter with the risen Christ . . . it is our witness to the resurrection: “I forgive you.” Our belief is not some elite intellectual exercise but an embodied faith expressed in actions. We need to walk and talk like a forgiven people. Repentance-and-forgiveness is not just for Lent; it is Easter-activity! Forgiveness is a virtue that enables us not to allow past hurts to determine our decisions and actions in the here and now. Forgiveness opens up the space for creating together with the one forgiven a new future . . . It allows for new life – calls for new life and new possibilities.
Think of all this and pray for God’s Spirit to enliven and guide us as we are sent out at the end of our Eucharist “to love and serve the Lord.” (Birmingham, W&W Yr B, 365-373)
The gospels struggle with expressing the risen reality. It was not just another phase in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. In a real sense he was totally “other”, living now the indescribable life of God. And yet he was the same person and in some ways objectively identifiable. However, the resurrection was known principally by its fruits, the faith proclamation of unlettered fishermen. It changed people’s lives and continues to do so. To watch people move from a state of alienation to conversion and a new direction in life is the clearest proof of the risen Christ (Faley, R. Footprints on the Mountain, p, 309).
1st Reading: The Acts of the Apostles 4: 32-35
Every Easter season we read from Acts; it is the ‘Part-2’ of Luke’s story. It is a very idealistic and dramatic narrative of the early community. Through the power of the Risen Lord, we are empowered to share life and possessions, rather than horde ‘things.’ Luke in these types of summaries is holding up an ideal for all of us to consider. Historically, we know that in these early communities all private ownership was NOT utterly renounced. Sharing and caring for each other was the way, however, for the Christian to ‘live’ Jesus’ resurrection. It still is today. (Celebration, April, 2000)
A triumphal picture is painted in Acts. Such an ecclesiology, taken in isolation, will leave Christians perplexed when their institutions begin to close, when their churches are being abandoned for lack of members, and when their overall numbers in the world begin to get smaller (Brown, Raymond, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, p. 70-71). Not to be a party pooper, but we know from Paul’s letters that there was discord and difficulty behind the success of the growing community. Isn’t there always? It is Christ that gives us strength and hope…as Psalm 118 says this week, “His mercy endures forever.”
2nd Reading: 1 John 5: 1-6
John’s community was not only persecuted, it was divided. It was being split by people who could not believe in the Incarnation (the Gnostics). Those who broke away did not believe that the human Jesus could be one with the powerful Presence and Spirit of God, both through his baptismal calling and power (the water and the Spirit) and through his humanness and suffering (the blood, his life-force). Further proof of their error was their behavior and lack of love shown toward one another. They would not accept the reality of Jesus Christ nor his way of love. (Mary Birmingham, W& W for Year B, 355-356)
Reflect on that word ‘begotten’. The word is based on the Greek word monogenes, which means “pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.” John was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus is the Son of God and he uses monogenes to highlight Jesus as uniquely God’s Son—sharing the same divine nature as God—as opposed to believers who are God’s sons and daughters by adoption. Jesus is God’s “one and only” Son. But this is also speaking about US. This is the kind of intimacy God wants with us. We enter into this relationship. We are one of a kind, unique, and loved by our Creator.
The Gospel: John 20: 19-31
Belief isn’t something we have and then that’s it. There is always room to grow in our belief – or our unbelief. The story of ‘doubting Thomas’ is the story of all of us. May we all come to a profound faith in “Our Lord and our God” as Thomas did. Note also that it says the ‘disciples’ were behind closed doors. The Spirit is given to all those gathered, not just the Twelve. The mission of all disciples, empowered by the Spirit, is to extend to others the forgiveness and life that Jesus offers us through his death and resurrection. Where the Spirit is present, the Risen Christ becomes visible. (Living Liturgy, 2003, 116-117)
The faith of Thomas was not based on an empty tomb, but on an encounter with the living Lord. We can learn from Thomas:
1st, we see the importance of community – we can miss a lot if we separate ourselves from community. When sorrow overwhelms us, it is then that we need to seek that we can “seek the heart and mind of Christ” in other believers.
2nd, Thomas was honest – and even bold. When he had doubts and questions he did not deny his doubts “by pretending that they didn’t exist.” He took them directly to Jesus. In John’s Gospel when all of Jesus’ followers agreed that it was dangerous to go back to Jerusalem, Thomas says: “Let us go also to die with him (11:16).” Yet, when Jesus tries to warn his friends at the Last Supper that he would have to leave them — that he would go to his Father’s house and that they knew the way — Thomas spoke up: “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way (14:5)?” After demanding his own experience of the Risen Lord, he is the one who gives the ultimate faith statement: “My Lord and my God!” (Celebration, April 2005, and Quest, Spring 2005)
Note: Jesus is recognized by his wounds. How many of us have come to ‘see’ Jesus because of our wounds? We do not often see auras or visions or angels. If we are indeed Christ’s body in this time and place, then our wounds, too, have meaning and can be “luminous signs.” Perhaps it is in our woundedness that we are most like Jesus and most like one another. Our ‘witness to resurrection’ may be our willingness to embrace all of life – even our wounds and difficulties. We do this not to be masochistic, but rather to show that we are in the midst of being healed, of being forgiven, of receiving peace. We can become healers, too, for one another — “wounded healers” like Henri Nouwen would say — so Jesus can continue to work through us and through our simple wounds. (Celebration, April 2002)
At the end of this gospel story, John writes that he has told this story so that “you may come to believe . . . and that through this belief you may have life.”
But the word John uses for belief is not a noun – but a verb! In fact, John never uses the noun faith or belief; he uses the verb 98 times! John is not concerned with an inward system of thoughts, but an active commitment to trust in Jesus and in his word. This is what it means to be a disciple. It is the very reason the Father sent Jesus and why Jesus came: “that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15). Jesus’ whole life, ministry, death, and resurrection are oriented to this one outcome. This is why Jesus persisted in the face of conspiracy, rejection, abandonment – and it is why Jesus came that Easter morning to those who were locked in fear – and then again to Thomas. It is also why he continues to come to us offering us his peace. (“Working with the Word”, Zimmerman, http://liturgy.slu.edu 2006)