From New Testament times, the Christian church has been concerned about its outreach. God is concerned about all persons, and the church is the mediator of that outreach. How can the world hear of God’s great name unless the church speaks clearly? How can the world know of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm unless the church acts? The Gospel speaks of God’s concern for the “foreigner,” a concern expressed through the church. This is the church at its best. One of the enduring problems of the church is to strike the proper balance between guarding the blessings of chosenness and being the mediator of God’s outreach. It is possible to guard the purity of doctrine and life to the extent that the church becomes irrelevant to the world and its problems. At the other extreme, it is easy to compromise essentials to meet the world until we fall for everything because we stand for nothing. Neither attitude is foreign to the church. The church is the body of Christ, and as he is the mediator between God and mankind, so must the church be. The outreach of Christ must be shown in the outreach of the church. It is only through the eyes of faith that we can see Jesus as the Christ, the mediator of God’s will and power. The centurion’s faith saw Jesus as God’s mediator, and therefore merited Jesus’ words of praise. Jesus, the Christian church (as the body of Christ) and Christians (as members of the body of Christ) all share in the mediatorship of Jesus.
This text affirms that the Spirit will continue Jesus’ ministry and lead the disciples “into all the truth,” meaning the full understanding of God’s act in Christ. The Spirit will also “declare to you the things that are to come” (16:14), that is, the promises of God for the future. The fullness of God is Christ’s, and so as the Spirit reveals Christ, the disciples will come to know God. Trinity Sunday commemorates a doctrine which seeks to define the mystery of God’s nature. Christian experience has asserted that the God of mystery and might has revealed himself in his Son, the historical Jesus. However, God is more than a person. God is alive, empowering, saving—this is the Holy Spirit. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God! Do not try to reason it out as a logical statement. Rather, it is a statement of faith based on experience. If all attempts at explanation end in the confession of the mystery of the Godhead, so be it! Our hope can lie only in a deity beyond our feeble understanding. Ultimately the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be explained but to be accepted in awe.
The Bible speaks about the Spirit of God right from the beginning of the Bible. Two important terms for the Spirit in the Bible are ruah (in Hebrew) and pneuma (in Greek). The Spirit of God as described in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible gives life to the entire creation. For St. Paul, creation is not yet completed. It is still longing for its liberation from whatever holds it captive and prevents it from living fully the new life Jesus has brought (Romans 8:22-23). Through the Spirit, it is God himself who is present and active. Earlier on Jesus had foretold that all who believe in him would receive the Spirit (John 7:39). Now in his farewell speech Jesus promises again the Spirit of Truth to come and stay with the disciples (John 14:15). There is continuity between Jesus and the community of believers, the Church. As Jesus was guided throughout his ministry by the Spirit, so the Apostles and the first Christian community felt strongly that the Spirit of Jesus was present in them and among them. The Acts of the Apostles describe how the Spirit made them understand the deep meaning of the message of Jesus and gave them courage to proclaim it openly without fear. The Church still lives in the faith that the Spirit will continue to show it how to continue the mission of Jesus today.
The “Ascension of our Lord” recalls that after the risen Lord appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:13- 35,36-43), he bids them farewell, blesses them, and promises them the Holy Spirit. At this final moment he helps the Apostles to understand the meaning of his death in the light of the Scriptures. For Jesus it is the end of his journey in this world. For the Apostles it is the beginning of a long journey into the world to take Jesus’ message everywhere. But they are not sent to go alone. Jesus promises them a companion on the road: the Spirit. Through this Spirit they will realize that he is still with them. Luke has two versions of the Ascension. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Ascension to heaven happens only after appearing to the disciples for forty days which is a symbolic figure. During this time Jesus prepares his disciples to be his messengers. Their missionary journey will start in Jerusalem and reach Rome, the center of the Roman empire. The Gospel of Ascension tells us that like the Apostles we are all sent out on a journey into the world to take Jesus’ message of love to all we meet on our road of life. As followers of Jesus, we have also to be his messengers. The task of evangelizing all peoples is the most important mission of the Church. Every Christian is called to tell the Good News of Jesus to others by word and action. Ascension reminds us also that—as for Jesus—our life is a journey home, to our Father’s house. Although God has given us the important mission to transform this world into his kingdom, we always remain “strangers and foreigners on earth” (Heb 11:13). Our true home is heaven.
Monica Folk, is a deacon, discipleship, and ministry leader at Trinity in Kissimmee, FL and living out her vocational calling to care for Creation as an environmental consultant. She sent this follow-up to Earth Day last week:
A bunch of good articles and info came out last week as part of Earth Day celebrations. Here is one from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) on recycling that might make good up-to-date content for the 7 Habits webpages.
The Gospel is composed of four interrelated parts. In the first part (14:23-24), Jesus discussed the results of loving and not loving. To love him meant to be obedient to his word, for Jesus’ word is God’s word. In the second part (14:25-26), Jesus spoke of how God and the divine love are present in the lives of those who love and obey, namely through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls the “advocate” (14:15). In the third part (14:27), Jesus bestowed the gift of peace. It is a peculiar peace, unlike any known by the world. This peace is not contentment or the absence of trouble, but a relationship of love with our creator that wards off the fears of a troubled heart. In the final part (14:28-29), Jesus prepared those who loved him for his death.
The Gospel of today is taken from the final testament of Jesus at the Last Supper. Two important ideas are stated: The first is that the death of Jesus will be at the same time his glorification. Far from being a defeat, his death is actually a victory. The second idea is that in the period after the death of Jesus, the real sign of being disciples of Jesus is the love they will have for each other. The measure of their love for each other is Jesus’ love for them and that is love without measure. They are to love each other even to the point of giving up their lives for one another. The first time John uses the word “love” is to announce that it is out of love for the world that God sent his only Son (John 3:16). The human response, however, to this incredible act of love was to prefer the world to God (John 3:16-19). Yet, Jesus’ whole life and ministry continues to be one of God’s love. The measure of love, Jesus says, is to love even when there is no reward and no response. Just as he had given his life for all till the end, the disciples of Jesus are invited to love in a similar way and to be ready to give their lives for others. Our everyday life as disciples of Jesus offers us countless chances to show something of the love of Jesus for others. Our temptation is often to be selective in the love we give or to love others because of some reward or consolation we may get in return. Love of this kind is not really love of the person but rather of self. Yet, love without measure is what makes the disciples a witness of Jesus.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday” to show the intimate relationship between Jesus as his disciples, and his own intimate relationship with the Father who has sent him. Jesus’ theme of the Good Shepherd becomes an image of how close the relationship between him and his disciples should be. The true disciple of Jesus shows his intimacy with Jesus in two ways: listening and following as a sheep. He listens to the voice of the Shepherd and follows it (John 10:27). Listening is a fundamental attitude of the disciple. As Jesus is always attentive to what his Father wants, so the disciple opens his ears to what Jesus says. At times, Jesus speaks to us directly in our hearts, but the common way to listen to his voice is in the Scriptures. Listening to the voice of Jesus leads unavoidably to following Jesus wherever he may lead us. The Shepherd seeks the good of his sheep and leads them to green pastures. But he is also ready to give up his life out of love for them (John 10:11,15,17-18). Following Jesus all the way means in the end to “pick up the cross and follow him.” The way of the master is also the way of the disciple. The Good Shepherd leads us onto a narrow and steep road, but it is a road that leads to life (Matt 7:14).
In this text, the disciples had fished all night with no success. One whom the disciples cannot recognize called out to them from the shore, first asking the embarrassing question if they caught anything, and then directing them to try the other side of the boat. After finding their net filled with fish, one of them recognized the man on the shore as the Lord. Peter demonstrated his impulsiveness and jumped into the sea. On the shore, they shared breakfast in which Jesus gave the bewildered disciples bread and fish. The passage suggests the mystery of the presence of the risen Christ—at first unrecognized, then producing wondrous effects, and finally causing awe. John’s detail of the disciples’ catching 153 fish invites speculation. It may have to do with the universal outreach of the gospel—all the kinds of people know in the world of that time. But it remains a concealed symbol. As with another resurrection appearance (Luke 24:28-31), the risen Christ shared a meal with his disciples—suggestive of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.
The Gospel for this Sunday tells of two experiences of the risen Christ. The first is to the disciples without Thomas present (20:19-23) and the second to Thomas and the other disciples (20:24-29). The risen Christ came to the disciples amid their fear of the hostility directed toward them and Jesus. He immediately offered them “peace” (20:19). Then, after showing them evidence that he was their crucified Lord, he announced their mission (20:21). They were sent forth with the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive and retain sins (20:22-23). Thomas found the report of the others unbelievable and so the risen Christ appeared a second time, now in the midst of an experience of doubt. He offered Thomas the evidence he demanded (20:25,27) and urged him to believe. Thomas’ confession is the climax of John’s entire gospel: “My Lord and my God” (20:28). The Gospel closes with the purpose of the entire book of John—that the readers may believe and receive the gift of eternal life. Once again, we are reminded that our faith is not based on “proof,” but on listening to the Word of the Risen One, who speaks to us.