Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily - 5th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

5th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

First Reading: Acts 6:1-7             Second Reading: 1 Peter 2:4-9              Gospel Reading: John 14:1-12


During the 2nd World War, in Malaya, a prisoner happened to escape from the prisoners' camp. He was assisted by a native fellow who led him through a thick forest and from there to freedom and back home. The native fellow walked ahead and the man followed him from behind. With great difficulty they were finding their way through thorns and bushes, and ups and downs, and twists and turns, and the man got very tired. He then asked the native fellow,“Are you sure this is the way?” The native fellow looked at him, and in broken English he said, “There is no way. I am the way. If you want to be free and go home, then you have to just follow me.”
In the same way, in the Gospel Reading of today Jesus says to us - “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” as we journey with him through our earthly life in the midst of our problems and difficulties, sufferings and pains, disappointments and discouragements, stress and strain to the House of our Heavenly Father, and we have to just follow him.

We are in the Easter Season and today is the 5th Sunday. Today's Liturgy continues to deepen our identity as Easter people, although there is a distinct shift of emphasis in today’s Readings from Jesus' Resurrection to the activity and organization of the early Christians. The First Reading from Acts of the Apostles depicts a moment in the life of the early Church and responds to a practical need. There is a division of functions to allow the apostles to dedicate themselves to their priestly task, while consecrating others to attend to the necessary material works and charitable needs. We see here a necessary practical shaping of the spiritual edifice. The Second Reading from the 1st Letter of Peter, depicts our identity as Easter people and encourages us to be aware of our responsibility as 'living stones,' with Christ as cornerstone, to form a 'spiritual building.' The rich images that we hear in this reading present our dignity as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” to sing his praises. In the Gospel Reading from St. John, Jesus in his last discourse forewarns his disciples of his departure and reminds them of how they are to reach their Heavenly Father’s house. He says to them, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Those who believe in him will inherit eternal life. He at the same time stresses on his unity with the Father and our need to trust in him.

As the Easter season progresses, our attention is drawn from intimate encounters with the Risen Jesus and relationships within the early Christian community to a more outward-looking focus. The First Reading of today from Acts of the Apostles provides an interesting milestones of ecclesiastical evolution. We see the early Christian community expanding its leadership structure by adding specialized ministries to respond to the changing needs. Seven reputable men filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit are chosen and prayed over by the apostles for a special Church ministry. The seven chosen ones would 'serve at table' and handle the administrative affairs for the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) who were complaining that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of goods. The imposition of hands by the apostles suggests a passing of power to the seven chosen for service. It is worth noting that authority rested with the Twelve, yet the community's approval was sought and the community actually chose the seven. By being faithful to Christ and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the Christian disciples in Jerusalem were able to find an equitable solution that permitted them to achieve their main goal of spreading the Word of God.

In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter, Peter speaks to the Gentile Christians of their identity and dignity of being a follower of Christ and encourages them to be aware of their responsibility as 'living stones,' with Christ as cornerstone, to form a 'spiritual building.' He reminds them that just as the ancient Israelite people were called to be holy just as God was holy, so too they as new Christians were likewise and just as much expected by God to live a vocation to holiness. He cited the text from Exodus 19:6 which was a practical, constitutional statement by God about God’s People: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own ...” These words are even used in the sacred Eucharistic Liturgy to remind our assembly in our own day, of the dignity of the Christian Vocation. It means that through our sacrament of Baptism, like the Israelite people of old, we become a holy nation, a people set apart. The word royal priesthood would associate us with high rank in society and as priests we become mediators between God and man and therefore the task of reconciliation. Hence through this call we become God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

The Gospel Reading of today from St. John, is taken from the Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper, and addresses concerns of the disciples that would arise because of the departure (i.e. death) of Jesus soon to occur. In the context of its Liturgical proclamation at this point in the Easter Season, this reading also invites us to reflect on the coming 'departure' of Jesus in the 'Ascension' and the impact on us believers of the physical absence of Jesus. What are the disciples to do without him? What do we do without this reassuring presence?
a) “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
The disciples are aware that Jesus is about to leave them. There is a heavy air of gloom and anxiety as the enemies of Jesus close in around him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” are the encouraging words he speaks to them. “Trust in God still, and trust in me” is a call to total faith in the Father and in him. Trusting in God means accepting and facing reality. It means dealing with our problems knowing that even in worst-case scenarios, God will not allow us to be crushed and lost. We do our best with the proper means available to us and God will take care of the rest. The passage also assures them that Jesus will return and take his followers with him. The immanent departure of Jesus is presented not as a loss but as a preparation for the future. The expression 'many dwelling places' of the Father’s house suggests not a diversity of place within heaven but that there will be room enough for everyone in God’s eternal presence.
b) “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Jesus has now been with them for three years and they have seen him teaching and working among the people; so, “You know the way to the place where I am going,” they are told. Thomas, the man who likes to confront and the one with the very literal mind, protests, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” He is clearly thinking in geographical terms. In fact, all Jesus' words about going and coming are spoken on quite a different level of meaning altogether. However, we can be grateful to Thomas for drawing out of Jesus one of the great sayings of St. John's Gospel, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”
So what do we make of this saying of Jesus? What do they mean to us?
'I am the Way' – Jesus is a road. A road is a journey. And we go to God the Father through Jesus and we call Jesus the Way, because he is the visible manifestation in human form of all that his Father is.
'I am the Truth' – the Truth that meets us on the road. We Christians have not got the Truth. The Truth has got us. Jesus is God's gift of his true self to us. As God revealed His true self to Jesus, we look up to Jesus to reveal God to us.
'I am the Life' – this journey of Truth gives us life. When we believe in Jesus, we find life. More, He becomes our life.
In short, what living the Christian life is really all about is living with Jesus in faith. It is to make the Truth and the Life - the Father Himself - really ours by following Jesus who is the Way.
c) “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Now it is the naïve Philip's turn to interject. “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” It was the hope of every good Jew some day to see God face to face. With a tinge of disappointment Jesus says to him, that he has been with them for so long a time and they still do not recognize him. Then he continues to tell Philip that he and the Father are one and whoever has seen him has seen the Father. However, this statement must be understood with some qualifications. Jesus is the Son of God and is one with the Father in all things, but to say that when we see Jesus we see God is both true and not altogether true. For Jesus, as we know him, is limited by his humanness. When he speaks, certainly it is God who speaks. When he heals, certainly God heals. When Jesus died on the Cross, did God also die? Surely not. God cannot die. The death of Jesus in his humanity was a sublime witness of the love and compassion of the Ever Living God.
Lastly, Jesus has a word for them and us too. Yes, because by leaving for the Father he has passed his mandate on to us. We are called on to continue his mission in the world.

To conclude, in today’s Gospel Reading Jesus promises his eternal presence will be with his disciples. However, 'to believe' involves committing the whole self to the care of God. If Jesus goes to prepare a dwelling place for them in his Father’s house, there will be room for all of them.
So, just where are we headed then? It is the prayer of a faithful Christian trying to make sense of things. Do we let Christ guide us through life and point us to the ultimate victory that is ours in eternity? Our primary response to God’s self-revelation should be one of faith, faith in the one who cares about us, about our well-being and needs, about our joys and sorrows. God has a place for us. These words have often been of great comfort when read during the funeral service, it being one of the choices for the Gospel Reading. One day we will be securely at home with God for all time. But here is even more joyful news: not only will we be in that home then, we are invited to live in that home now. As St. Peter reminds us, we are a holy people, called to proclaim the one who called us out of darkness into light. In words and deeds we bear witness to the Risen Jesus, who says to us – “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” And this is the Good News of today.

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