5th Sunday of Easter
Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
As throughout this Easter season, the Acts of the Apostles supplies the first reading for this weekend’s liturgy.
This reading tells the story of some of the missionary activities of Paul and Barnabas. Although eventually they parted, Paul and Barnabas, Paul’s disciple, visited several places in Asia Minor that were prominent cities in the Roman Empire of the first century A.D.
Ancient traditions see all the Apostles as missionaries. Most of them indeed went far and wide to proclaim the Gospel, although for most the details have been lost or are kept only in pious legend.
However, Acts reports many of Paul’s efforts in missionizing. It is more than a travelogue. It reveals the conditions in which these two great figures in early Christianity lived. It is a lesson about the faith of Paul and Barnabas.
Speaking to Christians in the cities that they visited, Paul and Barnabas realistically warned these followers of Christ that hostility, and difficulties, were ahead.
Their warnings hardly came from paranoia or as a strategy to build regard for themselves by fabrication. The culture of the Roman Empire was absolutely hostile to the values of the Gospel. Moreover, the political order was becoming hostile.
Paul and Barnabas themselves met hostility and endured difficulties. Nevertheless they were undaunted. Ignoring risks, rejection, or setbacks, they continued to move from city to city, from Christian community to Christian community, proclaiming Christ. 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, moving and strikingly beautiful in its imagery very often. Often its symbolism is very involved, or unique to the first century. As a result, understanding the book not always is easy without reading scholarly commentaries along with the text itself.
However, the meaning of Revelation is not beyond human intelligence. The book looks to the spiritual life, to life in a world transformed by Christ.
For instance, this reading gives a vision of heaven, symbolized by the holy city of Jerusalem, but a transformed Jerusalem, and of God. It looks into eternity and to the place there for all 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 and to rising from the dead. Eternal life is open to humans who follow the Lord in obedience to God, in sacrifice and in faith.
Last month the Church called us, with joy and the deepest faith, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus after the terrible event of the crucifixion.
Gradually, gently, but unrelentingly, the Church has called upon us personally to respond to Jesus, to bond ourselves with the salvation that Jesus offers us.
This weekend’s readings proclaim the sacrificial death as well as the rising of Jesus from the dead, but it also calls upon us to respond by following the Lord.
As the second reading from Revelation, eternal life with God, in heaven will be our reward.
But, we still are in this life. We become authentic disciples by loving God, each other, and all people, as Jesus loved. In this love, Jesus died on Calvary as a sacrifice. In the Resurrection, Jesus triumphed. We can walk the same path. We must walk the same path.
Empowering us spiritually, guiding us, are the Apostles, still with us in their successors, successors to early bishops such as Barnabas. Through and with them, we find strength and access to the Lord.
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