5th Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2023

 

5th Sunday of Easter - May 7, 2023

Acts 6: 1-7; 1 Peter 2: 4-9; John 14: 1-12

Theme: The Solidness of the Church of Jesus

All the readings of this Fifth Sunday of Easter point to the Church of God and the celebration of the Eucharist. In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house. The “Father’s House” can be interpreted as heaven where there are enough places for all believers. Biblical Scholars also interpret the “Father’s House” as the Temple or the Church in this present time where Jesus’ disciples will be meeting with him and the Father whenever they gather together with their fellow believers in the celebration of the Eucharist. In this reflection, we will focus on this latter interpretation. Our first reading passage gives us an example of this gathering of the believers in the “Father’s house”. The author of the second reading calls the “Father’s House” a “Spiritual House”. He portrays Christians as stones built into this “Spiritual House” with Jesus being the foundation stone.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about his continual presence in his “Father’s House” which is the Church after his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Note that chapter 14 of John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus already told them about his Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Now in our passage, the evangelist depicts Jesus as fully aware of how his followers are troubled by hearing that shocking news. Jesus commences by exhorting them not to let their hearts be troubled. He invites them to have faith in him the same way they have faith in God. It means that the way they relate to God that they do not see physically is the same way from now they need to relate to Jesus. So, Jesus calls them to believe in his continual presence among them in his Father’s House which is the Church.

In verses 2 and 3, Jesus makes three important statements: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”, “I am going to prepare a place for you”, and “I will come back and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14: 2-3). In Jesus’ “Father’s House”, there are enough places for all believers. Jesus is telling his disciples and us that he is going to prepare these places for us, then he will come back to take us to himself because he wants us to be where he is. We may interpret the “Father’s House” here as heaven where we will be with Jesus. But note that heavenly life starts here and now. Jesus here is pointing to the Church that he just founded at the same event of the Last Supper before the farewell discourse. He indicates to them the Church where to find him after his death, Resurrection, and Ascension. He informs them and us that in his Church, there are many dwelling places that he is going to prepare for us. to meet him. Notice this important detail: “… so that where I am you also may be.” (John 14: 3b). You and I need to be where Jesus is. Jesus is in the Church, present in the Priest who celebrates the Holy Mass. Jesus is present in the Eucharist at the Tabernacle and in the Holy Communion that we receive at Mass. Jesus is present in the assembly of the believers gathered together in the liturgy of the Mass and of other sacraments. Jesus commands us to be where he is.

After telling us about the place (the Church) where to meet him, Jesus now wants to make sure that we know the way. “Where I am going you know the way.” (v. 4). Thomas intervenes first on behalf of his fellow disciples confessing that they know neither the way nor where he is going. This shows how it was difficult for the disciples to make a transition from the time they spent with Jesus physically to the Church’s time in which Jesus is present sacramentally (meaning through the sacraments and believers gathered in his name). In his answer, Jesus says that he himself is the way, the truth, and the life. To go to God the Father, there is only one way, Jesus. And to know God, the Father, as Philip requested, there is just one person, Jesus, who is the Sacrament of the Father, who shows us the Father. Jesus and God, the Father are one. And you and I are one with Jesus and the Father whenever we gather together in his Father’s House as the early Christians showed us an example in our first reading.

Our first reading speaks of the internal conflict in the early Christian community and of how the apostles solved the situation and preserved the unity of life in the Church. The issue is that some members (the Greek-speaking members) complain about their widows who are being neglected in the daily distribution. This reading teaches us several lessons. First, the unity of the Church: no conflict that emerges in each local Church should divide us. The Church has its human and divine parts. In its human dimension, the Church faced and continues to face interior (as well as exterior) conflicts. Today, we see people leaving the Church just because of different issues that provoke conflicts. The author of our first readings teaches us that internal conflict is human and needs to be solved but cannot divide the Church of Jesus. we need to preserve unity in the Church of Jesus.

Second, the hierarchy of the Church: Laypersons and clerics are all in the same mission of the Church to preach God’s Word. When there are issues within the community, Christians are called to solve them by respecting the hierarchy of the Church. In our first reading, note that the seven men are chosen by the members and are appointed by the apostles after laying their hands on them. The hierarchy of the Church does not signify the superiority of the clergy over the laity. Rather, it defines the distinction of the roles that each has in the Church of Jesus, and that together, we all contribute to the same mission which is the evangelization of the Word of God.

Third, the priority in the Church of Jesus is the preaching of the Word of God. The apostles here are confronted between the charitable outreach and the preaching of the Gospel, between the material and spiritual needs. Without ignoring the importance of outreach, the author of the Acts of the Apostles intends to teach us that the preaching of the Gospel is and must remain the priority. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,” said Jesus in Matthew 4: 4. Notice what the apostles say in our first reading, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.” (Acts 6: 2b). They appointed seven men to do the task of diaconal service while they continue to proclaim the Gospel. The Church should not stop or substitute the mission of preaching the Word of God with outreach. In another word, the focus in the Church must be not on material needs but on spiritual needs.

Since the time of the apostles until today, the Church of Jesus continues to face different problems (internal as well as external) that try to destabilize it. The author of our second reading tells us this Church is built on Jesus who is the “living stone”. This signifies the solidness of our Church. Nobody and nothing can stop or weaken it because Jesus is the cornerstone that sustains it. Notice how the author here invites us to be part of this Church. He says, “[Let] yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2: 5). This verse alludes to the book of Exodus when God chose the people of Israel as “a people of his own”, calling them “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (see Exodus 19: 6). Note that by inviting us to let ourselves be built into a spiritual house and be a holy priesthood, the author of 1 Peter reveals to us that this designation comes with responsibilities. One responsibility is to announce the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2: 9b). Another responsibility is, as part of the stones into which the Church of Jesus is built, to continue to maintain our local Church and always keep it strong. We cannot let internal conflicts that we may go through, or any other situations collapse our Church.

May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to find Jesus in the Church, and that we accept to become the stones that build and sustain our local Church so that no internal conflict or anything else divides the people of God. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD  

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