Sunday Scripture: Fifth Sunday of Easter (YEAR C)

Welcome to this, the Fortieth of my reflections on the theology of the Sunday readings at Mass. I'm a bit late this week, it's been really hectic with Head Teacher interviews and lots going on at work.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I sincerely hope that this reflection will inspire you. You might find that it answers a few questions you may have, but most of all I hope that it will show you how fantastic Sacred Scripture is and perhaps enable you to share some of my love and passion for the Bible as you begin to comprehend how layered and multi-faceted it is, and what a carefully considered part of the Mass the readings are.

If you want to know how these posts came about, please read my first post in this series here.

I would like to think this regular blog would be a great help to anyone who reads at Mass, to enable them to foster a deeper understanding of the message they are trying to impart to the congregation.

There are several different ways to read this post. I would suggest the first thing to do is to look at the relevant readings. You might then want to look at the specific commentary for a particular reading. I post the same summary of the featured Biblical books each week, but at the end, under the subheading this week, you will usually find some commentary specific to each week. At the end I post a passage which attempts to draw all the readings together and understand the message.

My reflections are not definitive, but based on my study and perhaps authenticated by careful reference to the Biblical Commentaries and books I list at the bottom each week.

This Sunday the theme for the readings might be summed up as:

Tears Pain & Death Open the Way to Heavenly Glory.

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may, under your protective care, bear much fruit and come to the joys of life eternal.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity if the Holy Spirit
one God for ever and ever.

This week's readings are:
  • First Reading: Acts of the Apostle 14: 21-27.
  • Psalm 144: 8-13; Response: cf. v. 1. 
  • Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5.
  • Gospel: John 13: 31-35.
First, a short preliminary survey of each of the books.

I will post the same, or similar prelims week on week, for each book as we encounter them, although I may add a little detail specific to each week's readings.

The Acts of the Apostles I have written a detailed exposition of Acts which you can read here.

This week: Paul urges believers to be prepared for the inherent difficulties of Christianity (2 Tim 3:12). There do not constitute signs of God's disapproval but rather open the way to heavenly glory (Mt 5:10; Rom 8:17). One particular point of interest is the mention of the New Testament office of Presbyter, which we translate as Elders, and is where we get the word Priest from (v. 23). The Greek expression we translate here as "to appoint" means "to stretch forth hands". This alludes to the rite of priestly ordination (1 Tim 4:14; Tit 1:5). Acts portrays the installation of elders as a hierarchical procedure, not a democratic one. Paul & Barnabas ordain the elders, the lay assembly to not 'elect' anyone.  There is some debate about whether priests existed this early in the history of the Church as they are never mentioned in the undisputed Pauline letters. The appointment of them is a major issue only in the post-Pauline Pastoral Epistles. Yet episkopoi and diakonoi are mentioned in Phil 1:1, and it seems to me that arguments drawn from silence about Church structure in Paul's own life time are not a particularly rigorous academic tool.

Psalms is the Bible's manual of inspired song and prayer. The collection of 150 Psalms represents the culmination of a long tradition that extends across almost the full span of the history of ancient Israel, from the Exodus (c. 1280 B.C.) until the last centuries of the Old Testament era (c. 200 B.C.). In Hebrew the canon of the Bible is called the TNK or Tanakh, which consists of Torah (teaching), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (writings)—thus TaNaKh. Psalms makes up the first of the writings in the Hebrew text. One of the most powerful things we know about the Psalms is that this is how Jesus Himself prayed.

This week: An Alphabet of Praise of God my King. Unlike most of the alphabetical psalms, where the thought is disjointed and artificial (especially 26, 38, 112, 113), this pleasant psalm has a genuine religious and poetic feeling, with a tenderness of thought and grace of dissection. It falls easily into stanzas, each verse starting with the next letter of the alphabet. The stanzas are marked off by changes of person. The text of the Qumran psalter is particularly interesting (11Q Ps xvi-xvii): here there is a refrain 'Blessed be the LORD and blessed be His name for ever and ever' attached to each verse, the only similar arrangement being in Ps 137; and further, Qumran includes the missing verse before v14, which previously had been reconstructed from LXX and Vulgate.

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the canonical New Testament even though II Peter was the last book to be composed. It was written by John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8) an exile on the island of Patmos (1:9) one of the northernmost islands of the Dodecanese group. There is an array of ancient authors who offer testimony that this is John the son of Zebedee (Mk 3:17). It is the only book of its kind in the New Testament: a work of Christian prophecy that has much in common with the prophetic books of the Old Testament. Yet it is also an apocalyptic book with clear similarities to Jewish religious writings called apocalypses, which date from the same contemporary period. Dominated as it is by apocalyptic and prophetic symbolism, the book of Revelation is notoriously difficult to interpret. Even St. jerome the most learned Biblical scholar in the early Church was compelled to admit that it "has as many mysteries as words" (Letters 53, 8). We need to take an integrative view of Revelation which recognises that the presence of multiple themes and perspectives which compliment one another serves to add richness and depth to the book. Christianity's struggle with the mighty Roman Empire is certainly part of the picture, as are the spiritual challenges to faith and fidelity that confront believers bombarded by the claims of the world. In this context, one must accept that Revelation offers a message of ultimate hope that looks ahead to the consummation of history and the heavenly glorification of the saints.

This week: we hear about the new creation, it is essential to start from the understanding that John speaks to us as an eschatological theologian, not a geo-physicist. The heavenly Jerusalem of Gal 4:26 is presented either as a community (Heb 12:22), or as a city built in heaven. As we have seen in much of the readings we have studied from Revelation, Isaiah is the source of the imagery. Isaiah 65:17-19; 66:22. The prophecies are fulfilled. Judgement has passed, the sea has disappeared. Why? It was the habitat of the dragon, the primeval chaos. Now is fulfilled the prophecy of the most intimate sharing of life between God and His people, Lev 26:12; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 37:27; a constant Old Testament theme. The new earth will be like the harden of Genesis 2 cf Isaiah 25:8. The dwelling of God with human beings is described lyrically, offering hope for all who live in the present vale of tears: no more tears, death, or pain, or night; a city as beautiful as a precious jewel built on foundation walls bearing the names of the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

The Gospel According to St. John: I have written a detailed exposition on the Gospel of St. John which you can read here.

This week: Jesus accepts His suffering at the hands of evil men and it is at this moment that He shows us the dimensions of God's love for the world (Rom 5:8; Jn 3:16). Jesus gives the disciples "a new commandment". The Torah commanded human love for ourselves and our neighbour (Lev 19:18). Jesus commands divine love for one another that is modelled on His own acts of charity and generosity. This supernatural love comes not from us but from the Spirit (Rom 5:5; CCC 1822-29). I chose a picture of Pope Francis washing the feet of prisoners on Maunday Thursday because the Gospel reading is from that scene in the Gospel. Jesus shows how we should love one another as He has loved us by acting as servant.

Drawing them all together...

I thought there were some really interesting things in the readings this week. I thought it was especially pertinent that there is a pervading theme of suffering and the way we deal with suffering, turning it into witness by the power of love. This in a week when we heard that Sir Winston Churchill would be appearing on our five pound notes from 2016 along with his words: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." Sir Winston is considered by many throughout the world as the leader who delivered the world from the threat of Naziism. The dreadful struggle and toil of the war was a sacrifice which ultimate led the world to cast off the extremist oppression which was Hitler's agenda.  Similarly, we can reflect how the re-understanding of betrayal, pain, sorrow—blood, toil and tears—through the Christian message can led us to a new creation.

The theme of mission which we saw introduced in last week's readings is further developed this week. Paul & Barnabas return to cities where, earlier in their journey of evangelisation, they had earlier been rejected, stoned and cast out. Disregarding their own safety, they put 'fresh heart' into their new friends. encouraging them to carry on, with prayer, with new helpers, and with a sober realism about the hard facts. Their journey made Jesus a reality for the Pagans. The great Easter themes of witness, apostleship, ministry and mission have all been in interplay, and now  we see the themes return to witness, a witness of joy and of love, a love that lives in the commandment that Jesus gave His disciples at the Last Supper, the decisive commandment that identified His followers everywhere as different, and called to a new vision of, and a perspective on, life and behaviour.

Love and joy are the fruits of the Spirit, and it is the Father's will working through His Spirit, who will exalt Jesus—lifted high on the Cross, gloriously risen, ascending to the Father to be universally present for us all. Jesus beckons us to new life which will be part of the new creation of the future. We are witnesses of the new creation, where every tear will be wiped away. But tears, pain and death remain in the meantime, and we can be a countersign to all this difficulty if we show the kindness, love and compassion of the Psalm. When we love others, as He loves us, we make Him present, for our love is really His love at work in us (Jn 4:11-12). We begin to make the everlasting kingdom a reality now. "By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples." This explains much of the way we think about the importance of human life, both at it's beginning and at it's end. For Christians, suffering is a part of the reality of life which cannot be sanitised. Instead, a truer way to live is with a firm understanding of the reality of tragedy which can become real and personal for anyone of us at any moment; we can be diagnosed with a serious illness, hurt or killed in an accident. These things are part of living, but in Christ they are transformed. We see the heroic love shown by those whose vocation it is to offer assistance to those affected by tragedy, and we are personally defined not by the things that happen to us in life, but by the manner in which we turn that tragedy to good, to love, and to the glory of almighty God.

Face of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin


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Barret, C. K., Acts a Shorter Commentary, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002.
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Brown, R. et al (Ed) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (London: Chapman, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Dodd, C.H., The Founder of Christianity, (London: Collins, 1978).
Duggan, M., The Consuming Fire, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).
Fuller, R.C., Johnstone, L., Kearns, C., A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, (London: Nelson, 1969).
Hahn, S., The Lamb's Supper (London: DLT, 1999).
Harrington, W. J., John: Spiritual Theologian (Dublin: The Columbia Press, 2007).
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, Second Edition RSV, (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001).
Kereszty, R., O. Cist., Jesus Christ—Fundamentals of Christology (New York: Alba, 2010).
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