Gospel: John17: 20 – 26
This reading is Jesus’ prayer at his last meal with his disciples. For whom does Jesus pray, for what does Jesus pray, and why does Jesus pray for it? Jesus prays for those who would believe in him on the word of the disciples. He is praying that they may all be united with the same intimacy that Jesus knows with his Father. The reason for the prayer is to bring people to faith, so people will believe that the Father sent Jesus to the world. The unity that Christ desired for his disciples would be a result of the living presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit! This is something that John’s community in particular needed to hear (W&W, Birmingham, p. 312). As you reflect on Jesus’ prayer for you, what is most comforting to you, and what might you need to change in order to conform your life more closely to what Jesus wants for you?
It is easy to see the Trinity in Jesus’ prayer. We are being called to be one with God just as Father, Son and Spirit are one with each other. This oneness unites us with each other too. Jesus, as the incarnation…the Word made flesh…is the way. The cross is a symbol of our oneness…vertical connection with God and horizontal connection with each other. Michael Downey has more thoughts on this in Altogether Gift:
The incomprehensibility of God lies in the utter gratuity of life and love, in God’s constant coming as gift. God is inexhaustible Gift, Given and Gift/ing in and through love. This is who God is and how God is. Whatever may be known of this ineffable mystery, unfathomable because of the depth and prodigality of this life pouring itself forth in love, is known in and through the gift of the indwelling Spirit of God enabling us to recognize the Word made flesh whose life, passion, and Resurrection are the very disclosure of God’s mystery.
A Trinitarian spirituality is a whole way of life by which we participate in the mission of Word and Spirit in human life, history, the church and the world, becoming ourselves expressions and configurations of God’s speaking and breathing – now.
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.
Human personhood is not something achieved in autonomy or independence or self-determination or self-sufficiency. Rather, human personhood is received in self-donation, being toward, always toward the other and others in relation.
1ST READING – ACTS 5: 27-32, 40-41
How is this reading pertinent to church and political life today? The Sanhedrin was the Jewish high court, consisting of 71 members which included elders, high priests, priestly leaders and scribes. They could pass legal judgment in most cases, except capital cases which were reserved for the Romans. They were very powerful. And they refused to feel any responsibility for Jesus’ death. They considered the apostles as renegades from Judaism, and so they exerted their control over them (Birmingham, W&W, p. 279). Yet the apostles stood their ground. They drew their line in the sand, and actually rejoiced that they could suffer for the cause. These are the same apostles that were hiding out in the Gospel last week! What brought them out of their fear?
Mark Powell in Introducing the New Testament describes Acts as a “history of a particular institution or organization composed by that entity’s public relation department,” (p. 197). Everything always seems to work out for the best. Embarrassing incidents, failings, prayers unanswered and people not healed aren’t mentioned, although they must have happened. At times we are like this when someone close to us dies too. But maybe there is a lesson in this. We take our faith so seriously, sometimes seeing the bad more than anything else. What if we focused on the positive? What if we reveled in the good of our church and our relationship with God?
2ND READING – REVELATION 5: 11-14
Revelation is a book to excite the senses. In a sense, to ‘interpret’ this book is to misinterpret it, for often the appeal is to the imagination; it a book to be experienced, not explained (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p, 519).The slain Lamb conjures images of the Jewish Passover, and Jesus represents the sacrificial lamb (Birmingham, W&W, p. 280). Notice how the elders are better listeners in this story than the first reading. They actually fall down and worship…quite a contrast! (The elders are 24, 12 for the tribes of Israel and 12 for the disciples. It is really a way of saying ALL fell down to worship.
Note how John includes every creature in worship. Pope Francis in “Laudato Si” says, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another,” (#42) and “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world,” (#77). How might be worship God within the context of creation?
GOSPEL: John 21:1-19
Night-time was the best for fishing. From W.M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes, “There are certain kinds of fishing always carried on at night. It is a beautiful sight. With blazing torch, the boat glides over the flashing sea, and the men stand gazing keenly into it until their prey is sighted, when, quick as lightening, they fling their net or fly their spear; and often you see the tired fishermen come sullenly into harbor in the morning, having toiled all night in vain.” It also happens that the men in the boat rely on someone on shore to tell them where to cast. From a distance, a person might see the fish in the clear water better than from straight above. Jesus was acting as guide to his fishermen friends, just as people still do today (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p. 281).
It was Jewish law that to offer a greeting was a religious act, and for that one must be clothed. That is why Peter first puts on his tunic before going to Jesus (p. 282). Peter is such an example to us! He jumps in with excitement to get to Jesus as soon as possible!
This story is meant to ground the risen Christ. He actually came…not as a vision or spirit but the real deal who pointed out fish, cooked and ate with his friends.
Why 153 fish? One idea from St. Jerome is that there were 153 different kinds of fish, so the catch was all-encompassing. The number symbolizes the fact that some day all people of all nations will be gathered together to Jesus Christ. The net stands for the Church; and there is room in the Church for all people of all nations (p. 284). Like it says in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II: The Church works and prays diligently with great hope that everyone in the whole world will ultimately join together as the People of God.
Why “more than these”? It could be that Jesus swept his hands around the boat, nets, equipment and catch and meant more than this life Peter had. Or perhaps Jesus meant more than the other disciples, fore-shadowing Peter’s place in the early church (p. 285). Either way, Jesus asks Peter 3 times of his love, giving him a chance at forgiveness and rehabilitation. Of course, Jesus had forgiven him already, but perhaps Peter still clung to the guilt.
Love costs. Peter’s love for Jesus brought him both a task and a cross. Love always involves responsibility and sacrifice. It is the cost of discipleship; it is what ‘picking up our cross’ is all about. The cutting edge of love is not dying for the other but living for the other. It is caring for the other for their own sake, regardless of consequences. (Celebration, April 2001 &2004) How does this group compare with the Sanhedrin in the 1st reading?
Reading #1: Acts of the Apostles 5: 12-16
This book (by the same writer as Luke’s Gospel) is sort of a cultic biography. It is a rather idealized version of the early church – the first people who knew and lived the reality of the Risen Christ. It acts like a norm by which we are to measure our attempts at being church. What do you find important in this reading?
This Second Sunday of Easter has become known as Divine Mercy Sunday. God’s mercy often comes to us through the quiet gift of another person who touches us with love, understanding, hope. — like a nurse who takes unusual care or a friend who really listens – who laughs with us and who likes us despite our ‘faults.’ Like Peter, we can all cast the shadow of God’s love and healing over another person . . . How have you experienced such mercy?
(Exploring the Sunday Readings, April 2004)
In Near Eastern cultures of this time, a shadow was commonly thought of as an extension of the person. It was a time of ‘magical understanding’ rather than scientific. It was even thought that one might harm people by stabbing their shadow. Symbolically, it was often used in Hebrew scripture as a sign of protection – especially God’s protection as in Ps. 17:8: “Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Understanding God’s Word, April – June, 2007)
Consider that word: esteemed. What images does it conjure in your mind? “The people esteemed them.” The dictionary has synonyms of
|respect, admire, value, regard, appreciate, prize, treasure, revere.|
Who does this for you? Who esteems you to be who you are and dare to put yourself out there? Imagine if the people did not esteem them?
Reading #2: Revelation 1: 9 – 13, 17-19
Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature. It means unveiling; it tries to reveal the truth through ‘safe’ but powerful images, symbols, colors, numbers, visions and cryptic language. This is potent symbolic literature – it is written to those who had suffered persecution and were looking forward to more in the future. It was to assure them that goodness would never be overcome by evil. It draws the whole Biblical story into its own – a story of a God who journeys with humans to guide, shape and reshape human history. (Celebration, April, 2004)
The seven gold lampstands refers to the seven churches to which this ‘letter’ was written – what do you think of this image for a church? Notice Jesus is standing in the midst of them, with his feet showing and dressed like the lampstands. His first words are not to be afraid. How does this speak to you?
Do you have dreams/visionary insights/imaginary thought that impact your life too?
The Gospel: John 20:19-31
Can you relate to Thomas? When have doubts ever led you to greater faith?
“To believe in the resurrection of Jesus means to undertake
the surprising risk of reckoning with Jesus Christ as a present reality.” (Meinrad Limbeck)
What does that statement mean to you? This gospel reading is a culminating event in John’s gospel — shining forth with insight, symbol, and challenge. The community that gave us John’s gospel was experiencing much persecution, both from the Roman Empire that declared them illegal to the Jewish synagogues that declared them unwelcome.
What meaning do you find in:
the locked doors
‘the fear of the Jews’ (the authorities)
Shalom, “Peace be with you,” Jesus’ greeting
Jesus breathing on them (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 37)
the power of forgiveness
the binding that comes from the lack of forgiveness
the wounds of Jesus
Thomas’ experience of doubt and faith (See John 11: 16)
It seems particularly important to John’s community to have Jesus assure those “who have not seen and have believed.”
Easter reality: Jesus lives; fear not! This is the cornerstone of our faith – joyfully proclaimed, but not easy to live. Fear can be crippling: fear of failure, fear of hurting or being hurt, fear of loss, fear of not knowing love, fear of pain, fear that what I know may not be so . . . Yet, a cowering band of men and women, hiding out from the authorities, suddenly became a powerful and public force for good . . . What made the difference? In the risen Christ they found the end to fear . . . (Celebration, April, 2004)
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 )
How many of us are like Thomas? Our faith may be strong, but there are slivers of doubt that creep in now and then. It is an ancient problem and John gives us an honest scene to ponder. Here are the disciples of Jesus hiding behind locked doors — Afraid. They were not expecting the Risen Christ. Locked doors are not a welcoming gesture! But suddenly he is there – offering peace, forgiveness, new life. There are no auras, no blinding lights, no accompanying angels to identify Jesus. Only his wounds. Doesn’t our own faith-life have more wounds than auras or lights or angels? Like the disciples we have seen many wounds. Of course, our culture tries hard to hide wounds and wrinkles and scars. Yet, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we have to share with each other is our woundedness. Only those comfortable with wounds can enter into the wounded places of others. Like Jesus, we carry our wounds with us. One powerful witness to resurrection may be our willingness to embrace these wounds — not out of some maudlin, masochistic, woe-is-me pleasure. Rather, we need to be ‘wounded-healers’ for each other (Henri Nouwen). For “the blessing lies close to the wound” as an African saying proclaims. Here in the ‘sacred wounds’ of one another we may find the presence of the Living One who can and will breath new life into us all. That is how our faith saves us. (Celebration, April 2000)
Commentary from William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series
Why else did Pilate act as he did? Last week, we talked about how he tried to put the responsibility on the Jews and tried to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner.
- Pilate tries to compromise by ordering Jesus to be scourged. But we are either for Jesus or against Jesus. There is no compromise.
- He attempts to appeal. Maybe pity or emotion will change things. “Shall I crucify your king?” But this is Pilate’s personal decision that he cannot evade. He admits defeat. Pilate has not the courage to do the right thing.
Pilate asks , “What is truth?”. Is it wistful? Maybe he finally saw what he missed out on. But to turn from his ways was too much work and he didn’t want to use the strength to change. Perhaps there have been times in our life when we felt the same.
In order to compass the death of Jesus, the Jews denied every principle they had. The ultimate was, “We have no king but Caesar.” These are the people who said God alone was their king (I Samuel 12:12, Judges 8:23). The Jews were prepared to abandon every principle they had in order to eliminate Jesus. Notice how easily they turn their ways to hate vs. how hard it is for Pilate to turn to good. Oftentimes it is easier to do wrong than right, isn’t it?
The Way to the Cross
Once a verdict of crucifixion was made, it was carried out immediately. The cross was placed upon his shoulders and he would normally be walked down as many streets as possible. An officer would walk in front with a placard that said the crime he committed. Walking down the street would call attention to what would happen to the onlookers if they did the same. It would also be an opportunity for anyone to come forward and bear witness in favor of the convicted. If that happened, the procession would stop and he would be retried.
Every Jew wore 5 articles of apparel: his shoes, his turban, his girdle, his tunic, and his outer robe. Since there were 4 soldiers, they each got 1 and the tunic was left. So they threw dice for it and gambled to see who would get it. Jesus is a gambler too. He took his own life and threw it for the world. He won. You wonder who made that tunic…was it Mary herself?
There were 4 women (perhaps balancing out the 4 soldiers?): Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary Jesus’ mother, Jesus’ aunt and Mary of Magdala. We know nothing of the wife of Clopas. Mother Mary shows the ultimate love here. John does not name Jesus’ aunt, but Mark and Matthew name her Salome (James’ and John’s mother). This is the woman who asked Jesus to give James and John a special place in his kingdom and Jesus rebukes her (Matthew 20:20). Yet here she is in her humility. And Mary of Magdala had had 7 devils cast out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). That’s all we know of her. And that she is devoted.
There is something infinitely moving in the fact that Jesus in the agony of the Cross, when the salvation of the world hung in the balance, thought of the loneliness of his mother in the days ahead. Jesus thought more of the sorrows of others than of his own.
The Triumphant Ending
“I thirst.” It was important for John’s audience to know that Jesus is human. Gnosticism was rising. Gnostics separated spirit (good) and body (bad). So they taught that Jesus never had a real body. They said that when Jesus walked, he didn’t leave footprints. It was like he had a phantom body. They went so far to assume that Jesus never really suffered. This romanticizes God and makes God untouchable. God is with us. He had to become what we are in order to make us what he is. He experienced thirst.
Why does John use hyssop for what holds the sponge for Jesus to drink? Hyssop is a stalk of strong grass, only 2 feet long. It is unlikely that it would do a good job of holding. Hyssop is symbolic. In Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the first born sons, a smear of lamb blood using a bunch of hyssop on the doorpost would cause the angel to pass over the Israelites’ homes. Jesus is the great Passover lamb, saving the world.
“It is finished.” This is one word in Greek: tetelestai. Perhaps he did shout it as it says in the other gospels. The victory is won.
The Last Gifts to Jesus
Joseph of Arimathaea had a tomb for Jesus and Nicodemus had burial spices. It is bittersweet. Both of them were members of the Sanhedrin. Were they absent the day they convicted Jesus? Did they just remain silent? How different things would have been if they had only spoken up. But they were afraid. They kept their discipleship secret. What would it be like for us to keep our faith a secret? But they are no longer keeping secret. Jesus’ death strengthened them, made them bold. The power of the Cross was already at work.
1st Half of Gospel for Good Friday John 18
The Jesus of John’s passion is much more challenging to us. In this gospel Jesus is the one in charge; he chooses his destiny. It almost seems like he is arranging his own death. In John Jesus carries the cross himself-this is his destiny and he chooses to walk to it. Even on the cross, Jesus is in charge, attending to unexpected details-he places his mother and his beloved disciple into each other’s care. Finally, it is Jesus who announces “It is finished.”
Why is it “Good” Friday? Jesus showed us that suffering and death is not all there is. Good Friday is more than a step to resurrection; it is a day on which we celebrate Jesus’ obedience, his kingship, the everlasting establishment of his reign, his side being opened and himself being poured out so that we can be washed in his very blood and water. The real scandal of the cross isn’t suffering and death; the real scandal of the cross is that God is victorious in Christ’s obedience. Death has no power over God (Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 104).
When confronted with Christ’s suffering, it challenges us to understand why there is suffering. There is suffering because…there just is. Suffering does not earn our way to heaven. Suffering does allow us to be transformed right now. “…God’s compassionate love enters the pain of the world to transform it from within, “ (Johnson, She Who Is, p. 270). We can allow the suffering to help us become better people, and that can be its “reward”. Jesus was trying to explain how it was necessary for him to die so that they may be saved. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 47). There is a greater good at stake.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.” He wrote those words when in a Nazi prison. He was hanged not long afterward because he spoke out in favor of the Jewish people. Bonhoeffer wrote, “…to be in this furious storm even to exhaustion, even to vexation, even to the call of martyrdom for the Word of Christ, so that there will be peace, so that there will be love, so that there will be salvation, and so that he is our peace and that God is a God of peace, “ (Kelly & Nelson, p. 214). Bonhoeffer knew that suffering could lead to peace; no one wants suffering, but there can be meaning in it.
Jurgen Moltmann says, “While his Son is dying on the cross, God the Father suffers too, but not in the same way. The Father suffers the loss of his Son, experiencing infinite grief. There is total separation between them; they are lost to each other. At the same time, however, they have never been so close. They are united in a deep community of will, each willing to do this for love of the world. As a result, the Holy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world, “ (Johnson, Quest…), p. 61). God was with Jesus the whole time, and suffered with him. What is your feeling or insight about Jesus’ suffering and death? What “death” have I experienced in my life – death of a loved one, an abrupt and painful change, having to let go of someone or something I cherished?
Commentary from The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay (p. 220-231):
The Arrest in the Garden
All the Passover lambs were killed in the temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God (estimated 256,000!) Imagine what the Temple courts would have looked like with all of that blood. From the altar, a channel went down to the brook Kedron to drain the blood of the lambs. When Jesus crossed, the brook would have still been red with the blood. This must have made him think of his own sacrifice. As they continued walking, they came to the Mount of Olives where the Garden of Gethsemane (meaning oil-press…consider the imagery!) was located. It would have been a private garden of a wealthy landowner. Jesus must have been given a key to it to visit it frequently.
The officers would be Temple police, and the text suggests there was quite a number of them, almost an army. Imagine that many needed for an unarmed Galilean carpenter?! Why do you think they sent so many?
See how brave Jesus is? He doesn’t hide behind the trees but comes right out and asks who the soldiers are looking for. They seem dumbfounded that it is him because he is so forthcoming. He seems stronger than they are. Peter is brave too, to cut the ear of the slave despite the army opposing him.
Jesus Before Annas
The High priest was the arch-collaborator of the Romans. The family of Annas was immensely rich and one-by-one they had intrigued and bribed their way into office, while Annas remained the power behind it all. Even the way in which Annas made his money was most probably disgraceful. Because sacrifices made in the temple needed to be perfect, only those sold in the temple would be accepted as such (which of course was controlled by Annas and cost significantly more than those outside of it). These are the same moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple. Now we see why Annas wanted to see Jesus himself. Jesus had hit him where it hurt-his pocket!
Maimonides, a great Jewish medieval scholar, says, “Our true law does not inflict the penalty of death upon a sinner by his own confession.” Annas violated the principles of Jewish justice when he questioned Jesus. It is precisely of this that Jesus was only reminding him. But the writing was on the wall. Jesus never had any hope for justice.
The Hero and the Coward
It is a mystery who the disciple is that goes into the courtyard with Jesus and knows the high priest somehow. Note that he and Peter are the only diciples that stay; the rest run away. Maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea. Maybe John himself, whose father most likely sold salt fish to the high priest and then he delivered it. By not knowing for sure, it does allow us as readers to enter into the story.
It is interesting that a cock crowed because cocks weren’t allowed in Jerusalem (although who knows if that rule was followed). How can you know when a cock will crow anyway? But the Romans had a practice of changing the guards every 3 hours at night (6pm-9pm, 9pm-12am, 12am-3am, 3am-6am). There would be a trumpet call at the change (gallicinium in Latin or alektorophōnia in Greek), which both mean cockcrow. Maybe this is what Jesus meant and Peter remembered.
Peter loved Jesus. It was the real Peter that professed his loyalty in the upper room, drew his sword in the garden and followed Jesus into the courtyard. It was not the real Peter who cracked beneath the tension and denied the Lord. And that is just what Jesus could see. Jesus sees our true self. He loves us in spite of what we do because he loves us, not for what we are, but what we have it in us to be.
Jesus and Pilate
The Romans had allowed a good deal of self-government, but they did not have the right of the sword (death penalty). “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people,” (Deuteronomy 17:7) is the word of Jesus that is fulfilled. Jesus had to die a Roman death, because he had to be lifted up. If the Jews had been able to kill him themselves, it would have been a stoning (Leviticus 24:16).
It is clear why Pilate acted as he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus. He had screwed up once before and been reported to Caesar. The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that he wouldn’t help them. If he gets reported again, he may lose his job and power. He is looking out for himself. He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job. But let’s look at his decision-making more closely:
- He tries to put the responsibility on the Jews: No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.
- He tries to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner: There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide if we accept or reject him…
We will take up the rest next week!
1st Reading – Ezekiel 37: 12-14
Ezekiel prophesized just before and during the Babylonian Exile. Both Jewish kingdoms had been devastated and many Jews had been taken to Babylon as slaves. It seemed to them that they were ‘dead’ as a people and as a country. Ezekiel speaks this message to encourage them in the midst of such desperation to still hope in a God who can bring life out of destruction and death. This reading comes from a longer section of Ezekiel called a “Vision of the Dry Bones.”
Many of us can use this reading to be encouraged during difficult times. It can provide potent images for the times when our hearts begin to feel like a mausoleum stacked with failures, broken dreams, and friends we can only think of in the past tense. Besides his words, it is also impressive to consider the behavior of the prophet himself. To be able to say, “You alone are the Lord,” while standing in a field of death, is a marvelous testimony of faith. May we take his words to heart and trust that no matter how much darkness is around us – no matter how many dreams or loved ones have died – that our life and hope are in the God who can bring forth life always. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.23)
2nd Reading – Romans 8: 8-11
This reading has its problems because of the translation of sarx as flesh and pneuma as spirit. Think of flesh instead as ‘our sinful nature’ that which leads to death. Flesh is our ‘small, insecure self’ that does not trust in the goodness and love of God. Spirit is better understood as ‘our life-giving, God-empowered nature’ that leads to full life. This fits better in what Paul is trying to say.
Biblical hope is not a belief in the intrinsic immortality of the human person, as though some part of us, such as the soul or spirit, is in and by itself immortal. The whole person – body, spirit, soul – is subject to decay and death. But the Good News is this: Christ has broken this subjection. He has burst the bonds of decay and death by his resurrection. The crucified/risen Lord is with us to assure us that God’s love – not our own helpless selves – is more powerful than death. God’s love offers us a transformation that can go through death to an eternal life. When we live by and with this indwelling Spirit, we begin to taste in the here and now the beginning of a new life. It will be full and complete when we have passed through death into the marvelous presence of our loving God. The Spirit that we are talking about is the Spirit of Christ. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel — John 11: 1-45
This is a long ‘short story,’ allegory, with layers of meaning about how Jesus has the fullness of God’s power to bring life from all that brings death. It is told here to prepare us for Jesus’ death and resurrection – to prepare us to celebrate Easter with new understanding. It is told only in John’s Gospel. Where do you see yourself in the story?
Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss: “Where were you? If You had only been here . . .” Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer. Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’ by his grace and live to ‘go free’.
The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless. Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why? No easy answer.
If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God?
What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16)
It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection.
From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas.
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:
John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”
Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.
Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him.
Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.
Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life” – but this resurrection is not about restoration of a corpse but rather a transformation of life. This eternal life does not abolish death but transcends it. Our faith in Jesus is not fully developed until we can face physical death with a firm confidence that the present eternal life that we live with hope is not simply a pledge of resurrection on the last day but is rather a present and continuing participation in the life of the ever-living Jesus now, at this moment. Those who believe in Jesus never truly die. That is our hope, and our faith. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
What can we do as Christians?
Pray for the dead, both those ‘still living’ and those who ‘passed on.’ Recall that they are part of the communion of saints, present always in the assembly of the faithful. Give comfort to those who struggle with illness and disability. Live with hope.
There are more mysteries in this story…why did Jesus wait to go back to Judea? Why did Mary sit at home at first? What is it about Lazarus that Jesus chose him to raise? Spend some time imagining with these thoughts.
Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)
1st Reading – Daniel 7: 13-14
We need to appreciate what has come before the passage we read today in order to know the wonder of this vision of the coming of the son of man before the throne of the Ancient One. The writer has been sharing a vision of four beasts who have emerged from the sea, the realm of evil and chaos. These beasts represent the various oppressive kingdoms that have tormented the Jewish people: 1st the lion with eagle’s wings and a human heart (the Babylon empire), 2nd a bear with three ribs (the Medes), 3rd a leopard with four heads and four wings (the Persian rule), and 4th a beast with huge feet and iron teeth who ate and trampled over everything. This fourth one was the Greek empire; its ten horns represented the ten kings of the Seleucid dynasty. This was the dynasty under which Daniel and his people were now suffering. Unlike the tyrants who emerged from the realm of evil (the sea), the Son of Man would come from heaven, from goodness, from God. The tyrants’ rule was cruel, but would exist for only a time. The Son of Man would rule over all peoples for all ages. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 23, 2003)
When this book was written, the author probably intended the image of the Son of Man to represent all the faithful people of the Lord – people whose trust in God would end in fulfillment and not disaster. As Christians we see in this passage a fore-seeing, a ‘vision’ of the final establishment of Christ’s rule. All things are not yet under our King’s feet – all do not follow his way of love. But that all will do so in the end is our Christian hope.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Revelation 1: 5-8
Here, too, is imagery of hope for those who are persecuted by an evil beast (Rome). Christ is given three titles. 1st Jesus is the faithful witness to the truth of God. Jesus’ very life, death and resurrection is the witness par excellence of God’s power of love and goodness. 2nd Jesus is called the first-born from the dead. He is Lord of the living and the dead: in resurrection he gains a victory over death; he is the first-born in whom the power and the honor of his father is fully invested. 3rd, Jesus is the ruler of the kings of the earth; he is affirmed as king and messiah. In all these ways we are assured that Jesus loves and frees us by making us his own – a nation of priests in God’s service, mediators of divine presence here on earth. In that way, his kingdom that is not of this world (the gospel) will transform this world. (Preaching Resources, Nov. 2003)
From John Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. :
Throughout the readings for this Sunday we ‘dream’ of kingship and regal splendor – we hope for an eternal Lord whose decrees are worthy of trust. Here in Revelation we find the “Alpha and Omega” – the One who is and who was and who is to come. This king is a liberator and lover. The lord of history who stands before the throne of God is not a lion. He is a lamb. In John’s gospel, we see that he is a servant-king, who washes his follower’s feet. In the face of Roman power, he is strangely grand and noble in his vulnerability and the utter truth of his being. He does not muster armies. He just invites. In Jesus’ kingdom people are drawn into a life of liberation, freed from false securities armed only with humility and truth. The human heart will never outgrow its longing for such a promised friend and rule. Something deep rises from within us in the face of its beauty. It awakens a long-lost ache to give everything else away for a cause so good and true . . . “When Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” (an old Shaker hymn)
The Gospel – John 18: 33b-37
In this conversation between Jesus and Pilate, John the Evangelist is offering to his readers a challenge. Jesus — faced with suffering and death at Roman hands — invites Pilate to listen and to respond to the truth. But Pilate just responds with his own question – a question for which he does not want an answer: “What is truth?” We, too, are asked through this story, “Will you respond to the truth?” Jesus and his kingdom do not originate from human scheming and political power. Jesus’ kingdom is not like Pilate’s. Pilate’s kingdom is one of domination, privilege, power and prestige. In Jesus’ kingdom, love and justice and service are present. Jesus’ kingdom comes into human history, enhancing it and leading it beyond itself . . . (Mary Birmingham, W&W for Year B, p.744)
From Henri Nouwen, written in his journal on the feast of Christ the King, 1995:
Today, “Christ is presented to us as the humbled king on trial for his life and as the glorious ruler of the universe. The greatest humiliation and the greatest victory come together in Christ today. How important it is for us to look at this humiliated and victorious Christ before the liturgical year begins. Today, Christ, humble and victorious, reminds us to stay close to him — close to him in humility, close to him in victory. We are called to live both aspects of Christ in our own daily lives. We are small and big, specks in the universe and the glory of God, little, fearful people and sons and daughters of the Lord of all creation.” (Preaching Resources, Nov., 2003)
Reading 1: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
This is a story of a people in relationship with their God. It is a story of sin and grace, bondage and deliverance. The exodus-event, then and now, was the axis upon which Israel’s history spun, just as the cross is the axis upon which Christianity revolves. While there is no certain date for the book, most scholars place it around 13 BC. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 593)
Manna was a sweet substance excreted from insects that lived in the Sinai desert. It is left on the leaves of the tamarisk shrub during May and June. It cools overnight, drops to the earth and becomes firm. If left on the ground, it would soon melt again; but if it is gathered in the early morning, it provides a tasty, nourishing feast. It is still eaten today. The word ‘manna’ may be from the Aramaic man hu, or what is this?. Quail are migratory birds that often fall from exhaustion over the desert. Both are regarded as gifts from God. (594) What do you see as the gifts from God in your life? At a time when the Israelites may have been the least-deserving of help, God showers them with nourishment.
Reading 2: Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
This reading is all about choice. How do we become the people that God calls us to be? How do we say no to doing wrong and yes to doing right? Sometimes our bad habits are just that…habits. Sometimes it is easier to keep doing what might be wrong for us because it is what we have always done. But it is futile.
Through Christ, there is hope! We can shed our old ways and be renewed! Like the white cloth in Baptism, we can “wear” a new life. We can choose to be new, but only through Jesus. How might this apply beyond ourselves, like the state of the economy, the environment, problems in the church…a lot is broken in this world…if God doesn’t fix them, who will (a loaded question)?
Gospel: John 6:24-35
We are forever wanting. As Ronald Rolheiser put in his book, The Holy Longing, “…there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul, “(p.3). But he ends his book, “Thus, given that we live under a smiling, relaxed, all-forgiving, and all-powerful God, we too should relax and smile, at least once in a while, because, irrespective of anything that has ever happened or will ever happen, in the end, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and every manner of being shall be well, “(p. 241). We will never go hungry or thirst if we do the work of God, which is to believe in Him.
What memories do you have of bread? How does God feed you with the living bread?
Jesus specifies only one work of God, faith in the person of his Son. Faith is not a human accomplishment but is affected by God himself. (Footprints on the Mountain, Faley, 517). What do you think of that?
The people are confused. They had just witnessed the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, then Jesus left. They didn’t know how he got there, but he avoids this question. It is more important why THEY are there! They are looking for more miracles from him, like Moses. Jesus explains to them that Moses didn’t perform the miracle of the manna, God did. And now God has sent them bread in the form of Jesus. Are they ready to hear this news?
“For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” In the ancient world, where the skills of reading and writing were not generally diffused, the seal served as a signature. The seal was usually made of semiprecious stone. It was regarded as something to be kept on the person at all times. (Dictionary of the Bible, McKenzie, 782) Jesus was chosen, permanently sealed with God’s mark. It isn’t just what Jesus taught that we believe in…it is Jesus himself.
In the Hebrew mind-set, faith is an act of heart and soul – not necessarily the intellect. To our modern culture, faith often refers to matters of the mind – belief in certain dogmas, or belief in one who possesses authority (i.e. doctor, clergy, etc.). In Middle Eastern thought faith has more to do with loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. (Word & Worship, Birmingham, 597). Can you think of times when you made decisions with your head vs. your heart?
Let us pray in the spirit of the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (4:1-6):
Brothers and sisters,
St. Paul urges us to live in a manner worthy of the call
we have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as we were also called to the one hope of our call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all. AMEN
This is the translation in The Message: “In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.” How does this speak to you?
1st Reading: 2 Kings 4: 42-44
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship for Year B, 583-584:
The faith history of Israel between King David’s death and the Babylonian exile (586 B.C.) is encapsulated in the Books of Kings. These books relate the history of a people in relationship with their God. It gives a rather panoramic view of the Davidic dynasty, the relationship between the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judea), and the religious judgments of a people. During this time the prophetic tradition also developed. The kings and leaders and the people were not only to worship Yahweh, but they were to live according to the wisdom and love of Yahweh. Elijah and Elisha were early, legendary prophets and holy men. Many of the remembered stories of them are a bit like epic cinema. None of the other prophets spoke of miracles, but the powerful ministries of these two men are replete with such stories.
Barley loaves were used in the Temple offering. The man who brought the bread to Elisha as “first fruit” also has a liturgical significance. By rights the man should have taken the ritual bread to the Gilgal sanctuary, which had been turned into a shrine to the pagan god, Baal. He chose, instead, to take the bread to Elisha as a sign that he would not worship idols but would remain true to the one Lord and God. First fruits are sacred, something very meaningful and precious to offer to the Lord. What are your first fruits? Are you willing to lift them up to the Lord?
The Gospel: John 6: 1-15
What does this story reveal to you about God? Notice the setting: It is by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. 5,000 people were there (quite different from the wedding feast of Cana, the first sign in John’s gospel). Jesus is up on a mountain, like Moses – and like Moses he is called to care for a great, hungry multitude. Twelve wicker baskets…like the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, all the people—a number of completeness. Barley is the type of bread used, the bread of the poor – it also was used in Temple worship. Barley is a hearty grain. It can survive extreme weather conditions such as heat and drought. It matures in less time than other grains. The feast of Passover coincides with the barley feast, so it no surprise that barley cakes take a star role in this drama. Galilee was famous for its pickled fish; dried fish was also common – an easy ‘luncheon meat’ to bring along for a journey. The word fish in Greek (ichtys) was also an acronym for Jesus Christ Savior, Son of God, and a symbol used in the early church to identify Christians.
Consider how limited the disciples seem in their problem solving. Philip can’t seem to figure out how to feed the crowd. Their limitations are like the church’s limitations. There aren’t enough priests…how will the people receive Eucharist? But Andrew and the little boy are more imaginative. How do we overcome our limitations?
Also consider what happens with the crowd when they have to share. Jesus created a sense of community when 5 thousand people (probably more since as the scripture says, it only included men) gathered. There is common ground in everyone sharing the same food…one body, one Spirit (in Ephesians). Sunday by Sunday by Shawn Madigan, CSJ
1st Reading: Acts 1: 15-17, 20a, 20c-26
The line in Acts that comes just before this passage states: “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”So what goes on in this upper room is not just a ‘male thing.’ It is a gathering of those who have known and loved Jesus in life and now through death and into the resurrection. It is a community that has grown out of this lived experience of Jesus. (Preaching Resources, 5/28/06) How might our church be like them and “be a witness to his resurrection”?
It is also important to remember that the number twelve was symbolic of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the fullness of the ‘people of God.’ So these Twelve had been appointed by Jesus to be a sign of this ‘eschatological community.’ That is why it was important to select another one to replace Judas who had died. These twelve must also be witnesses to the original saving history of both the earthly Jesus and his resurrection. They become this bridge between the earthly Jesus and the mission of the Church as a whole. The circle of the Twelve and the circle of the apostles (those sent out) sort of overlap. For all disciples are apostles – called to be sent out by Jesus to bring the Good News to the needy – and sometimes hostile – world. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
It feels good to be picked out, chosen. Imagine what Matthias may have experienced when he heard the lot fell to him. But we aren’t always picked. Poor Barsabbas. What do you think became of him? Can you think of times when you were like Matthias and Barsabbas? How did it affect your life after?
2nd Reading – 1 John 4: 11-16 and the Gospel – John 17: 11b-19
Let’s look at these readings together for they come out of the same author and community. What do you find important here?
God’s love for us and others compel us to also love one another. This is possible as God abides in those who love. God’s Spirit empowers them — lives in them. This is one of the main themes of the Johannine tradition. It is constantly being repeated. But let not its repetition deaden our ears and hearts to its truth. This mutual indwelling of this God of love is the essence of the saving event we call the Good News of Jesus Christ. (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy/slu.edu)
Too often don’t we prefer to ‘earn’ our gifts and grace? Too often don’t we mistrust the ways of love? Freud said that this notion of loving another as we love ourselves is nonsensical and absurd. Anyone who does this will put “himself at a disadvantage.” Often we ourselves fear that if we really love in this way we might become a doormat – or worse. Just take a look at Jesus. “God so loved the world” to give us Jesus – yet the world did and does reject the Word-made-flesh. It happened in the Rome of the Caesars, in the Florence of the Medicis, in the Communism of Russia, in the oppression of military El Salvador – and in our secular culture today. But despite the rejection and threat we as Christians have been entrusted with this Good and Dangerous Word of Love. We are sent into this ‘hostile’ world just as Christ was sent. We share in the same Spirit. (J Kavanaugh, S.J. “The Word Encountered,” http://liturgy/slu.edu )
We see Spirit as work through its fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Take time to consider where you see these fruits in your life. Take comfort in knowing Spirit is gifted to us so that God, and God’s love, remains with us.
We are consecrated with God’s truth. What does that mean to you? How does this relate to Mass? It is not only the bread and wine that are consecrated at the table. We are all made holy through the grace of God. We stand in truth, open to that consecration, knowing that we are being strengthened and nourished…so we can be sent forth into the world.
From Karl Rahner:
“Only the one who can be still and pray; only the one who is patient and does not drown out the frightening silence in which God dwells, and which comes to us, with the racket of everyday life . . . only that one can hear with ease and discretely appreciate something of the eternal life that is already inwardly given to us as the indwelling of God in us.”