Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Once again in this Easter season, the Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading for the Mass. It reports some of the missionary activities of Paul and Barnabas. Although eventually they parted, Paul and Barnabas, Paul’s disciple, visited several prominent cities in Asia Minor, part of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
While ancient traditions see all the Apostles as missionaries, as most of whom went far and wide to proclaim the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles concentrates on Paul’s efforts in missionizing.
The reading is more than a travelogue. It is a lesson about the faith of Paul and Barnabas and their uncompromising determination to make Jesus known. It also reveals the conditions in which these two great figures in early Christianity lived.
As they spoke to Christians whom they visited, they warned these followers of Christ that hostility and difficulties faced them. Their warnings sprang from their own personal experiences. Paul and Barnabas themselves met opposition and endured difficulties.
It is not surprising that these two great champions of the Gospel faced hardships. The culture of the Roman Empire was absolutely hostile to the values of the Gospel. The political order was becoming hostile as well.
Nevertheless, Paul and Barnabas were undaunted. They continued to move from city to city, from Christian community to Christian community, to reassure believers in Christ and to promote the Gospel. Despite the risks and the more-than-occasional rejections, their faith inspired them and impelled them.
For the second reading, the Church this weekend offers a passage from the Book of Revelation. This book, the last book of the New Testament in the translations and versions that have been used for centuries, is highly poetic and symbolic. It is moving and very often strikingly beautiful in its imagery, but often its symbolism is so involved or so unique to the first century that understanding the book is not easy without reading scholarly commentaries along with the text itself.
In this reading, the vision is of heaven, symbolized by the holy city of Jerusalem, but a transformed Jerusalem, and of God. It is a look into eternity and to the reward promised to those who love God.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading. This is not a Resurrection narrative, but it is strongly reminiscent of the Resurrection, and of the Lord’s death on Calvary.
Jesus obliquely refers to the Crucifixion. He also refers to rising from the dead. Eternal life is an option for humans who follow the Lord in obedience to God, in sacrifice and in faith. With Jesus, the faithful will die but also rise to eternal life.
A month ago, the Church called us, with joy and the deepest faith, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after the terrible event of the Crucifixion.
Gradually but unrelentingly, the Church has called upon us personally to respond to Jesus, to secure for ourselves the salvation brought to humanity by Jesus.
This weekend’s readings proclaim the sacrificial death as well as the rising of Jesus from the dead, but they also call upon us to respond by following the Lord.
As the second reading from Revelation says, eternal life with God in heaven will be our reward.
While still in this life, we authentically become disciples by loving God, each other and all people as Jesus loved. In this divine love, Jesus died on Calvary as a sacrifice. In God’s plan, divine love triumphed when Jesus rose.
We are not alone in our effort to be with God, to love as Jesus loved. The Apostles are with us in their successors, the bishops, who still teach us and strengthen us in the Church.
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