Wednesday, May 10, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter

What happens when you have too much of a good thing?  When a business wins that lucrative new contract or expands into a new location?  Or taking that same idea a bit closer to home, what happens when two families merge through marriage, or when a family welcomes a new child?  We consider this kind of growth to be a good thing, but as with all things, these successes also come with their own baggage.  Our readings for this 5th Sunday of Easter have our Apostles facing similar challenges in the face of their growing successes.

Acts 6:1-7
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
1 Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

Our reading from Acts of the Apostles learning the hard way about the challenges that grow out of their continued success when their number of followers continues to grow.  Up to this point the Apostles have been doing their best to address the needs of the community, both spiritual and physical, but the community has grown so large now that they are becoming overwhelmed.  Realizing that they didn’t have the time to step in and negotiate every minor problem or day-to-day issue, the Apostles look for help.  From among the community they find seven men who are “filled with the Spirit and wisdom,” lay hands upon them, and set them to their tasks.  To us modern Christians, we recognize this laying on of hands as the primary symbol of ordination… men filled with the Spirit and wisdom to lead the community, just as a Deacon or Parish Priest would do today.  Further, we see the Apostles pulling away from the “day-to-day” problems so they are no longer neglecting “the word of God to serve at table,” not unlike our bishops today.  The troubles with growth like this are common with any organization, but our Psalm gives us the guidance we need when we face these types of challenges when we sing, “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”


Our second reading continues our study of 1st Peter.  This week, Peter teaches that we, the people of God, are the new Temple.  Temple worship has been a long standing tradition among ancient peoples, including the Israelites.  But Peter is abandoning that idea… that worship does not happen in a place, but that it happens among the people, no matter where they are.  This is a monumental shift in thinking, especially for the ancient Jews, for whom the Temple in Jerusalem was (and is) the place that binds them together.  Peter calls us “living stone” as our bodies become a “spiritual house.”  Just as in the ancient Mosaic tradition, God isn’t limited to a single place, but instead lives among and within his people.  Mind you, Peter also had some additional motivations for this new thinking.  Not only had the Apostles and the other followers of Christ been physically thrown out of the Temple, but by the time this letter was written, the Temple itself was destroyed.  The young Christian Church was a Church of the dispossessed… not unlike those former slaves who fled Egypt.  We are the stones of the new Temple.

Our Gospel, taken from the Last Supper Discourses from John, has the Apostles still focused on “place.”  Jesus has promised that there is a place for them in the Kingdom of Heaven, but their thinking is still very focused on the physical… what they can see and what they can touch.  They still see this “Kingdom” as a physical place, and therefore, are concerned about its limitations.  Jesus, of course, is speaking from a higher place… a spiritual place.  Thomas is concerned about how they are going to get there.  Philip asks Jesus if they could just see the Father so they could assuage their concerns.  It is here that Jesus must step back and remind them that if they have seen him (Jesus) then they have seen the Father, and further tells them that because of this connection, their belief in Jesus can lead them to even greater works.  Jesus is trying to get the Apostles to think “outside the box,” a lesson that still needs some time to sink in.

Final thoughts:

This week our daily Angelus email linked to an interesting article titled, “
More Parish Closings Nationwide – What are we to Learn and Do?”  In this article the author, Msgr Pope, is speculating on why it seems so many parishes are getting closed down.  Regardless of why, however (and there are any number of reasons) Msgr. Pope provides us one serious revelation… “Bishops don’t close parishes, people do.”

I encourage you to read this article and ponder it, because it strikes at the heart of our readings this Sunday, which is that WE are the Church, WE are the new Temple, WE are, as St. Paul taught, the “Body of Christ.”  The physical nature of the Church lies within us.  This is what makes us part of the priesthood of the laity…that the action of the Church can only happen through our action.  We all have our duties as members of the Church.  While ordained ministers (deacons, priests, and bishops) all have their roles defined, this doesn’t mean we get to sit back and let them do all the work.  By our Baptism we are also priests on a certain level, and thus have our own role to play… to be that “living stone.”  Without our active participation the Church cannot live to spread the Gospel.

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