Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Do I consider myself as part of the vine or do I regard myself as an individual branch? How will I show that I am part of the vine?
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 15:1-6; Jn 15:1-8
John 15:1-17 are the verses for today and the next two days. These verses contain the final “I am” sayings in the Gospel (vv. 1, 5) and introduce the central metaphor of this unit: the vine and its branches. Jesus uses, in the first verse of Chapter 15, a common symbol of the world at that time: Vine. While in 15:1, the relationship with Jesus and the Father is stressed, in 15:5, when the metaphor is used again, Jesus does so in the context of his relationship with his disciples. Thus, the focus of the metaphor is interrelationship. If God is the vine dresser, Jesus is the vine and the disciples are the branches. All three are required for the production of fruit.
God, as the vine dresser, is the origin or source and, because Jesus comes from the Father, he is the true vine. God acts in his capacity as vine dresser and does what is best for the vine. Those branches that do bear fruit are pruned and those that do not, are cut away. This means that those of the community who express their union with Jesus by acting it out in works of love are pruned, whereas those who do not show their faith in action are cut off. The disciples have been given an insight into how they must remain in the vine, through the words that Jesus has spoken to them and through the loving actions that he performed, symbolized in the washing of the feet. They must learn from these actions and realize that, without abiding or remaining in Jesus, they can do nothing. Their own power or effort will never be sufficient for the works they have to perform. These can only be done if accompanied by the grace that Jesus gives.
“I am the vine, you are the branches” in 15:5 is not a repetition of what was said earlier. Rather it stresses the relationship of the community with Jesus. Without the vine, the branches are nothing. Mutual indwelling will result in bearing fruit. If a branch decides that it wants to live apart from the vine, it is in effect asking for death. Life apart from the vine is not possible for any branch.
Mutual indwelling is not merely with a single branch and the vine but with all the branches in the vine with one another. This unity of the branches among themselves will result in fruit bearing. This unity will also be a witness for the world and the glorification of the vine dresser: God. When people see the works of the disciples, it will lead them to glorify the Father.
All too often Christianity has been understood as a religion that has only the individual dimension. The communitarian dimension has been neglected. This is seen in so many of the Sacraments (which are both individual and communitarian) being treated and regarded as private devotions. The approach of many Christians has often been: My God and I. This approach is to misunderstand Christianity and all that Jesus stood for. The metaphor of today makes explicit that mutual indwelling is at the heart of the preaching of Jesus, and that Christianity, while it surely has an individual dimension, just as surely has a communitarian dimension. I am, as a Christian my brother’s and sister’s keeper. Their joys and sorrow, their trials and tribulations, their successes and failures, have to be as real to me as my own if I am to be a Christian in the true sense of the word. The Christian does make an individual commitment and choice to follow Jesus but he/she makes it in and through a community.
Monday, 29 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 14:19-28; Jn 14:27-31
A new promise is given to the disciples. This is first occurrence of “peace” in the Gospel of John. Peace here does not mean simply a wish, but must be seen as a legacy or bequest that Jesus leaves behind for the disciples. This peace that Jesus gives is not merely a sense of security, not merely the end of conflict and strife, but it embraces every aspect of a person’s life. This peace makes the weak strong and the fainthearted brave. It is a wholeness which makes one courageous to face all the trials and tribulations of life without getting overwhelmed. It is a peace which gives them the strength to face every kind of adversity with equanimity and faith.
Even as he offers this gift to them, Jesus reminds them of his departure because this is what God wills and it must come to pass. It is a reality that cannot be avoided and the peace given to them must make them able to accept it. The disciples must accept this reality, not out of resignation but, with an active joy. The reason for this joy is that Jesus goes to the Father after having completed the work given to him. It is the Father who has sent Jesus and given him the work to do - the work of making the Father known to the world - and now, after completing it thoroughly, Jesus goes back to where he has come from.
The foretelling of the events is Jesus’ way of preparing the disciples for what is to come and also to reveal to them that Jesus continues to go to his departure willingly and knowingly. It is not as if some unseen hand or “fate” is responsible for what is to come. Since what will happen fits in with God’s plan for Jesus and the world, Satan is never in control. He cannot have any power over Jesus. Jesus does what he does willingly and in obedience to the will of the Father..
The event of the death of a loved one sometimes shatters our world. We find it difficult to cope with the loss and wonder if the God we believe in really is a God of unconditional love. Does our God really care what happens to us? If he does, then why did he let this misfortune befall us? Where is he when we need him most? Why does he not answer? The answers to these questions are provided by Jesus in the Gospel text of today. He tells his disciples, and us, to rejoice at such happenings because they fit in with God’s plan for us and the world. We may not be able to see this plan at first glance, like the disciples were not able to see it when Jesus spoke it to them, but we also know that Jesus’ words are true because of his resurrection and ascension and because of the transformation in the lives of his disciples because of these events. We have to continue to dare to believe.
Sunday, 28 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 14:5-18; Jn 14:21-26
To be a true disciple of Jesus, it is not enough to make a verbal proclamation of faith in him. One is also required to keep his commandments. It is important to note here that one does not earn Jesus’ love by keeping his command to love. It is because one has already experienced that love that one wants to love and obey in return.
Judas (not Iscariot) does not appear in any of the Synoptic Gospels. He is the one who misunderstands here and asks a question about the revelation that Jesus is to make, not realizing that the revelation has been made already. If the disciples want to continue to experience the love that Jesus has made manifest to the world, they must continue to love one another. It is in the love of one another that they will experience the love of God and Jesus. This will result in a mutual indwelling. Just as Jesus dwells in the Father and the Father in him, so Jesus and the Father will live in the disciples and the disciples in them. This abiding presence of God and Jesus within the disciples as a community is both the foundation and the result of love expressed in deeds. Where there is no love shown, Jesus and the Father cannot be made present.
Though Jesus has made explicit what the disciples are to do if they are to make him present, it is possible that they may not have grasped all the implications of the command. The Paraclete or Advocate, only here in John identified with the Holy Spirit, will “remind” them of Jesus’ teachings. This clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit will not give new or different teaching, but only reinforce all that Jesus has already taught. The Spirit will be sent in Jesus’ name and so, like Jesus was the exegesis of the Father, the Spirit will be the exegesis of Jesus.
To keep the words of Jesus means to live them out in action. The ones who do that have already experienced the indwelling of God and Jesus in them. This indwelling will strengthen them and enable them to live out the word more fully each day. This is not a linear but cyclic process. More living out means more indwelling and more indwelling means more living out.
Saturday, 27 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 14:21b-27; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a,34-35
The Thirty Fifth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was held at the beginning of the year 2008. In Decree 2 titled “The Fire that Kindles Other Fires” a line reads thus: “Our lives must provoke the questions, “Who are you that you do these things…. and that you do them in this way”?” Through this the members of the Society of Jesus are exhorted to “manifest especially in the ceaseless world of noise and stimulation – a strong sense of the sacred inseparably joined to involvement in the world.” These words can well be used as a summary of the challenge of the Gospel text of today.
The background to the verses of the Gospel text is the episode in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. It is a gesture that is not merely symbolic, or a lesson in humility, but a prophetic gesture. Jesus is showing through this prophetic act not what his disciples are expected to do but what they are expected to be. Jesus wanted their actions to stem from their being. Today’s verses begin after Judas has gone out. He has decided not to be what Jesus expects him to be. He has decided to opt out. It is in this context and even in the midst of impending betrayal and deceitfulness that Jesus gives a new command. To be sure the command per se is not new. It forms part of the Torah in the Old Testament. What is new about it is that the commandment to love has its roots in the incarnation. God’s love for the world was so great that God could only send the Son as a perfect manifestation of that love. The second reading from the book of Revelation confirms this when it affirms that because of the incarnation, the dwelling of God is on earth and among mortals. God dwells with humans and manifests his love to them in wiping away their tears, and taking away their crying, mourning and pain. The disciples are asked to enter into that same love. They will show that they have entered into this love by keeping this command to love. It is a sure and tangible sign of the disciples abiding in Jesus. This love will also be a sign to the world of who the disciples are and why they do what they do.
The first Christian community continued to give this sign because of which many who experienced it were drawn to their way of life. The first reading of today narrates how Paul and his companions were able to transform the lives of many not merely because of their preaching the Word, but because they lived out the Word they preached. They were unafraid to continue to love even in the midst of persecution and rejection. What mattered to them was that love be proclaimed. What mattered to them was that the love that God had made incarnate in Christ be made known to all. What mattered was that no matter how arduous the road ahead or how terrifying the terrain, they would continue to persevere and love. They were thus instrumental in giving a glimpse to those who encountered them of the new heaven and new earth that the second reading of today speaks of. The first heaven and earth which was a heaven and earth that had not had the privilege of witnessing and experiencing the incarnation was no more. It had passed away because of the coming of Christ and his gift on unconditional love. The new heaven and new earth inaugurated by Christ’s coming was a heaven and earth that the first Christian community experienced in Christ and wanted to share with others. It was a situation in which there would be no sea and therefore no negatives because all that was negative would fade with the coming of the positive of unrestricted and unreserved love.
Today more than two thousand years after the inauguration of that new heaven and new earth, the challenge remains. The Christian community of today has to waken to this challenge and call to give a glimpse of what was through the coming of Christ and so what can be. It will do this when individual members of the community take on the responsibility of becoming Christ to those who do not know him or have not yet encountered him. It will do this when the community as a whole is united in that love which Christ brought with his coming. It will do this when those who encounter Christians today ask, “Who are you that you do these things… and that you do them in this way?”
Friday, 26 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 13:44-52; Jn 14:7-14
These verses continue the teachings begun in 14:1. The one who knows Jesus also knows the Father for Jesus reveals the Father as Father. In Jesus, one sees the Father as never before because no one has revealed him like Jesus does. Like Thomas before him, now Philip does not understand what Jesus is saying and in his ignorance, asks a question. He does not realize that in seeing Jesus he has seen the Father because of the revelation that Jesus makes of the Father. In offering himself, Jesus has offered all the revelation that the disciples need to identify the Father.
Jesus can only do what the Father has told him and so his works are those of the Father. Philip and the other disciples must be able to see Jesus as the revelation of the Father, if not in his person, at least through the works that Jesus does. The works flow from his person and are not separate from him but an integral part of who Jesus is. The works, too, are works of revelation. They show that the primary aim of God is not to condemn but to save and so are works that enhance and build up.
Since it is Jesus who sends the disciples, the works that anyone who believes in Jesus will do will be the same as those of Jesus. In fact, these will be able to do even greater works than Jesus. These works will make known the whole story of Jesus as Word made flesh and so, will be greater than those which Jesus does. Since these will be done after the whole Christ event – death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father – they will continue the glorification of Jesus. They will continue to reveal Jesus to the world, sitting at the right hand of God. Jesus will answer every prayer of the disciples made in his name and he will grant their petitions.
As Jesus made God known to the world through unconditional, magnanimous love, so the disciples are called to do the same. The works that Jesus did have to be continued today if Jesus is to be made present and is to be revealed to a world that does not yet know him. It is the present community of disciples that has the responsibility to continue the mission that Jesus began. Whenever an enhancing word is spoken, whenever an action that heals is done, whenever love is shown in a tangible manner, then the work of Jesus continues and Jesus continues to be made present.
To be sure, the revelation of God that Jesus made can also be recognized in the depths of one’s heart, but this is not the whole story. It is a love that must be shared and revealed to the world if it is to be complete and whole. The incarnation was not a private revelation given to a select few, but an earth shattering event made visible to the whole world. So the revelation of Jesus, today, has to be done visibly and tangibly.
Thursday, 25 April 2013
Have you, by your narrow mindedness, prevented others from encountering Jesus? Will you realize that he is bigger than anything that you can ever imagine?
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 13:26-33; Jn 14:1-6
Today’s Gospel reading contains the first of the teachings of Jesus that speak about his departure and what it means for his disciples. At the beginning of these teachings, Jesus commands his disciples to stand firm. They are not to let the event of his departure overwhelm them. They are not to give in to despair, give up, or lose hope. They must continue to trust and believe. Even though it might seem, on the surface level, that evil is winning, the disciples must realize that God is always in charge and in control of all situations. They must place their trust in God and in Jesus. Since Jesus shares an intimate relationship with the Father, and since the disciples can do so too, there will be as many rooms as there are believers. God and Jesus will exclude no one who wants to share this relationship with them. Jesus goes, but only to return and so, his going is not permanent. It is a temporary act that must be done and completed. This going and returning will be evidence of his power over everything, including death. Nothing and no one will ever be able to separate the disciples from the love that Jesus has for them. The purpose of Jesus’ returning is to take the disciples to the place where he is: the bosom of the Father. Even as Jesus points to himself as the one who reveals the Father, Thomas misunderstands and asks a question. He interprets the words “where I am going” only as a physical destination and so, protests that, since he does not know the final destination of Jesus, it is not possible to know how to get there. Jesus corrects this misunderstanding with an “I am” saying. “The Way” is not a geographical term or physical road, it is Jesus himself. Thus, to know Jesus is to know the way and, to know the way is to know Jesus. In his being “the Way” Jesus is also “Truth” and “Life”. Jesus is the “Truth’ because he has been sent by God to make God’s word known. He became “flesh” and anyone who recognizes this and listens to his voice, is of the truth. Recognition of the truth in Jesus leads to “life” in abundance. Since the fullness of God’s life was revealed in Jesus, one can only partake of this life through Jesus.
It is important not to be too fundamental in interpreting the last verse of today’s reading. All too often, insistence on the exclusiveness of the Christian way has been responsible for problems in various parts of the world. The Gospels all agree that the approach of Jesus was all inclusive and excluded no one who would want to come to the truth. There is no doubt that Jesus revealed the Father in the most unique of ways, as no one before had ever done. This is because, in the incarnation, God took on “flesh” in all its weaknesses and limitations. Jesus did not simply put on human nature but became like us in every single way and thus, can understand every aspect of our lives. However, by the fact of the incarnation, Jesus also gave us an insight into who God is and who we are called to be. He made us aware of our own limitlessness. Though he limited himself, we must realize that Jesus is much bigger than the narrow image of him we often have. This narrow image is responsible for our restricting him and making him as small as we are.
John was writing about his community’s experience of seeing God in Jesus incarnate and was not concerned with showing the superiority of this revelation over any other or with the fate of believers of other religions. We must keep this in mind when interpreting the last verse of today’s text. We must, however, rejoice because we are privileged to receive such a unique revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
When one brackets out the questions that contemporary Christians falsely import into these verses, there is nothing outrageous or offensive about the claims made here. Rather, at the heart of Christianity is this affirmation of the decisive revelation of God in the incarnation. John 14:6 can thus be read as the core claim of Christian identity; what distinguishes Christians from peoples of other faiths is the conviction given expression in John 14:6. It is, indeed, through Jesus that Christians have access to their God.
Wednesday, 24 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 13:13-25; Jn 13:16-20
These verses contain the second part of the discourse spoken by Jesus after he washes the feet of his disciples. In the first part (13:12-15), Jesus teaches his disciples about the meaning of his washing their feet, and the implications that this action has for their lives as his disciples.
In the second part of this discourse (13:16-20), Jesus teaches about discipleship in general and the relationship that the disciples share with him. The double Amen at 13:16, and at 13:20, forms an inclusion and so brackets and highlights what Jesus says in between. The disciples must remember that their role, in their relationship with Jesus, is that of servants to their master. If they understand this and act on it, then they will be blessed. They must, at every stage, know where their authority ends. The sayings which are highlighted by the inclusion are in 13:18-19 and contain a prediction of betrayal. Jesus is aware of who the betrayer is and also knows that it is not an outsider, but one who has eaten at table with him. Ps 41:9 is quoted here to accentuate the intimacy of the betrayal. The betrayer is someone whose feet he has washed, one with whom he has broken bread and one whom Jesus has loved to the very end. This foreknowledge of the betrayer also means that Jesus is in control of the events that lead to his death and is not taken by surprise. Another reason for informing his disciples about his betrayal, in advance, is so that they may realize who Jesus is: Son of God. Even as he is betrayed, he will reveal himself as God for us.
Since Jesus has been sent by God, he has God’s stamp and authority. The disciples, who are in turn sent by Jesus, have the authority and stamp of Jesus. Thus, if anyone accepts the disciples, they are in effect accepting Jesus. Just as Jesus shares fully in God’s work, so the disciples share fully in Jesus’ work of giving life to all and giving it in abundance.
Jesus’ act toward us, in love, manifested symbolically in the washing of the feet and sharing of bread, presents everyone who sits at his table with a choice: One can embrace Jesus’ gift to us and embody one’s embrace of that gift through one’s own acts of love or, one can turn one’s back on Jesus’ gift of love. This means that merely sitting at Jesus’ table, and even eating the bread that he gives, is not the full story. It has to be continued in the giving of self to others and is only completed when this is done. We then enter into community with Jesus and with one another.
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 12:24-13:5; Jn 12:44-50
Today’s Gospel reading contains the last public discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John. It serves as the epilogue to, and summarizes the main themes of Jesus’ public ministry. The words are a proclamation, as indicated by the words “cried out” in 12:44, which begin the discourse. Jesus has been sent as the revelation of God and, though no one has ever seen God, the one who sees Jesus, sees God. Jesus makes God known in a way never known before. He is the unique revelation of the Father as Father since he is Son. His reason for coming into the world was not to hide but to reveal and hence, he came as light. All are invited to come to this light so as not to stay in darkness any longer. Since the invitation that Jesus gives is free, one is not compelled to accept it. Every individual is free to make his/her choice. There is no coercion or force or any kind of pressure to accept. One will not be judged, even if one rejects the invitation, since the prime purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world is not to judge, but to save. Though this is true, the ones who do not accept the true word spoken in Jesus will have to accept responsibility for the choice that he/she makes. Jesus keeps revealing all that the Father has asked him to reveal.
These verses are a call to decision and commitment. One has to decide for or against, one has to make a choice. If one does not make a choice “for”, one is, in effect, making a choice “against” because with Jesus, there is no middle way.
Monday, 22 April 2013
Do you believe that God always wants what is best for you? How will you respond if things do not go the way you wish them to go today?
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 11:19-26; Jn 10:22-30
The verses that begin today’s reading inform us that Jesus is in Jerusalem at the Feast of Dedication which was celebrated in December each year. This feast is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. It celebrated the liberation of Jerusalem from the reign of the Syrian (Seleucid) king Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus had defiled the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BCE by building an altar to his own gods within the Temple sanctuary. In 165 BCE, Judas Maccabeus and his brothers regained control of the Temple and rededicated it to the God of Israel. The eight-day feast took place in the month December and was marked by the lighting of lamps and rejoicing.
The Jewish religious authorities begin the dialogue by asking Jesus whether he is the Messiah. They are annoyed that Jesus is not being explicit. This is the only place in the Gospel of John where Jesus is asked explicitly whether he is the Messiah. Jesus responds that he has been explicit and that he has told them, in no uncertain terms, the truth about himself and yet, they do not believe. Jesus then points to his ‘works” as indicators of this claim. “Works” here does not refer to miracles alone, but to the broader scope of Jesus’ ministry and includes the revelation of himself as having been sent by God.
Belief in Jesus determines whether one belongs to the fold of Jesus. Since the Jewish leaders do not believe, they cannot and do not belong to the fold. Those who belong to the fold hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow trustingly. Following Jesus leads to eternal life which he alone can give. The reason why Jesus can do this is because he has received this gift directly from the Father. What is more is that Jesus and the Father are one. This means that Jesus and God are united in their work of salvation and Jesus shares completely in God’s work.
We are privileged, as Christians, to have as our God one who is Good Shepherd, one whose primary interest and concern is to care for the good of the sheep. Our God is a God who wants to lead us to safety and to places where there is abundance. He wants what is best for us at all times and will do anything to protect us from any kind of harm. Though this is the case, we do not always listen to his voice and we prefer to go our own way. The only result that we can expect, after such a choice, is destruction and death.
Sunday, 21 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 11:1-18; Jn 10:1-10
These verses contain part of the Discourse on Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This Discourse appears in the Gospel of John after Jesus has healed a blind man on the Sabbath, because of which, the Jews are upset (9:1-41). It is the last full discourse of the public ministry of Jesus. The Farewell Discourse from 14:1-16:33 is exclusively given to the disciples and not to the public.
The focus in the first part of the Discourse (10:1-5) is on the shepherd and his relation to the flock. A contrast is made between the authorized shepherd and the bandit. The authorized shepherd enters by the gate, but the bandit climbs in another way. The reason for this is because the gate keeper opens the gate for the authorized shepherd but not for the bandit. Since he is the authorized shepherd, the sheep hear and recognize his voice. When he calls, they answer. There is an intimate bond between the shepherd and his sheep. They recognize and know each other. The shepherd walks ahead of the sheep and leads them out. The sheep are confident in his leadership and thus, follow him trustingly. They will not follow a stranger but will rather run away from him. The comment of the evangelist serves two purposes. The first is that the reader must understand that Jesus is using a “figure of speech” and thus, not take the metaphor literally. The reader must realize that many meanings are possible and therefore, must go below the surface, to the deeper meaning. The second point is that the listeners did not understand this figure of speech. If seen in the context of the miracle, and the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees objection because the healing took place on the Sabbath, then it seems clear that the authorized shepherd is Jesus and the bandits are the objectors. Jesus has the good of the sheep at heart and the bandits do not.
In the second part (10:7-16), while pastoral imagery is still used, the Discourse moves in a new direction. Jesus is also the “Gate” for the sheep. The gate has two functions: one is to give access to those who are legitimate and have a right to enter, and the other is to prevent those whose intention is to cause destruction. Rightful entry into the fold is only through Jesus, who is the gate.
The text of today concludes with one of the most beautiful and comprehensive statements of the mission of Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Gate. He has come to give life and give it to the full. All who listen to his voice will receive this life in abundance.
As the gate, Jesus is the way to life, but he is not merely that. He also leads the way and so, is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the way to life because he is himself life and he leads the way to life because he lays down his own life. These are non-transferable attributes; they derive from the heart of Jesus’ identity as one sent by God.
Saturday, 20 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 13:14,43-52; Rev 7:9,14b-17; Jn 10:27-30
All three readings of today centre on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. If in the first reading Paul includes Gentiles as those who are also called to be disciples, in the Gospel text, Jesus speaks of disciples as those who listen to the voice of the shepherd. The second reading speaks of showing in action rather than in words that one is a disciple.
The final verse of the Gospel text of today, “The Father and I are one” summarises beautifully what discipleship means. It explicates and explains the relationship of Jesus and God as well as the relationship of disciples with Jesus. The oneness which Jesus shares with God is acted out in the whole Gospel. He speaks God’s words, he does God’s deeds and he makes God known as no other has ever done before. Jesus is thus the manifestation of God’s unconditional love for the world. God sent Jesus and gave him to the world to show on the one hand that God would hold nothing back from the world and to show on the other that it was possible for every human being who encountered Jesus in any way to share in such a relationship with God because of Jesus. In Jesus, the world was able to witness who God is and what God is like. Disciples of Jesus who walk the same path can also reveal Jesus and so God.
This revelation of Jesus is what Paul invites the people in the Synagogue to. However, here like in the case of Jesus’ voice there is no coercion, pressure or force from without. The response has to be free. Like the sheep of Jesus hear his voice and follow him the people in the synagogue must decide if they are willing to follow. Since those to whom the voice was first addressed reject the Shepherd, others are invited to follow. Thus it is not primarily external identification marks that will determine a disciple of Jesus, rather one who shows in action that he/she wants to follow.
This action is narrated in the second reading of today which speaks of those who dared to follow unconditionally and had to pay the price of such following. These are people from every nation, tribe and language, which is a clear indication that discipleship is not exclusive nor determined by one’s background, but by having the courage to follow even in the midst of all odds. These are the ones who have undergone all kinds of persecution and maltreatment and have persevered. They have shown not in words but in action what it means to follow and be a disciple of Jesus.
Thus discipleship as brought out in the readings of today is not merely a matter of saying “Lord, Lord”. It concerns living out such a confession. To live out such a confession means to live as Jesus did and to manifest God as he did. The unique way in which Jesus revealed God is as unconditional forgiveness and love. This is why God is not a God who needs merely external worship and praise but a God who looks at the internal at the heart. This is because it is God who loves first. God does not need one to do anything to gain the love, because it is a love that is given gratis. One cannot acquire such a love or ever be worthy of it. One cannot earn such a love or merit it. However, one can show that this love given freely has been received and accepted only if one shares that love with everyone.
The sharing of such love was what the incarnation, mission, life, death and resurrection of Jesus was all about. God realised that the best way to show this love was through becoming an integral part of creation. In Jesus, this love reached the highest point and was manifested as pure, unadulterated love. It was a love that was shown when things were going well, but it was also a love that was revealed when things were not going as well. In fact, it was a love that was revealed even on and from the Cross. The multitude from every nation, tribe and language that followed the lamb realised this and that is why they too were able to go through the great ordeal and withstand all kinds of persecution. Thus like Jesus they too revealed God and thus like Jesus they too were able to see the face of God and stand before God.
The world today is hungering for such a love. There is too much of hate, indifference, apathy and coldness. There is too much of selfishness and self-centredness. Those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus are challenged through the readings of today to bring about the change that is needed. We have to dare like Jesus and the first Christian community to first open our hearts to receive the unconditional forgiveness and love that God keeps pouring and to share that love with all. In this we too make no distinction between nation, race, tribe and language. In this we do not discriminate between them and we, for all are invited to partake of this gracious love of God made manifest and revealed in Jesus.
Friday, 19 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 9:31-42; Jn 6:60-69
The text of today begins with the disciples grumbling after hearing what Jesus has said. The sayings are too difficult for them to accept. Jesus responds to their grumbling by issuing a challenge to them. If this affects them, they will be even more affected when they experience the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of Man. Jesus takes the disciples beyond the specific event of becoming and giving bread. He takes them to the whole of the Christ event and its mystery. Jesus, as Bread of Life, must be seen in the larger context of God’s plan of salvation through his Son.
The flesh, as flesh, and without the Spirit, is nothing. It cannot give live, nor does it have life. It is the Spirit that gives life and makes the flesh what it is. This means that simply eating the flesh of Jesus, without the right disposition, will not lead to life. Thus, those who eat and drink are not merely eating Jesus’ flesh and blood but the Spirit filled flesh and blood of Jesus. Even as Jesus offers the gift of life, through becoming bread, the gift is rejected because most prefer death. There are still those who will not believe. They have made their choice. God offers the gift of his Son to all, but not all will accept him. This is why many disciples drew back and no longer went with Jesus. This rejection leads Jesus to turn to the Twelve and ask them about their stand. They must choose whether they will accept or reject the offer of life that God makes in Jesus.
Simon Peter responds on behalf of the Twelve and at least verbally accepts that offer of life. He acknowledges that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that he is the Holy One of God, the one set aside by God.
Life always offers us choices. The choices that we are sometimes faced with might not always be what we desire, but the fact remains that we are free to choose. We can choose to be miserable or to be happy, we can choose to fear or to love, and we can choose to say No or to say Yes. Every choice that we make has its own consequences and we must be prepared to face them since it is we who have made the choice.
Thursday, 18 April 2013
If you wish to read the texts click on the texts: Acts 9:1-20; Jn 6:52-59
The first verse of today’s text, which contains the question that the “Jews” ask, is occasioned by the statement that Jesus makes in the previous verse. The agitation in their hearts is because Jesus has identified himself with the bread of life. Jesus replaces the manna that their ancestors ate.
Jesus addresses this protest in the verses that follow. The bread that is to be eaten is the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. Refusal to do this means death or non-life. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood results in life and resurrection on the last day. By not mentioning bread and wine and thus, not equating them with the flesh and blood of Jesus, John focuses on the corporeal and not only on the sacramental representations. He also wants to stress that Jesus gives his whole life to all who are willing to receive him. The flesh that Jesus gives is life giving and so is his blood. It is real food and drink that will end all hunger and thirst.
Eating of the flesh and blood of Jesus leads to a mutual indwelling. The one who eats and drinks abides in Jesus and Jesus abides in that person. This relationship is an extension of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Just as Jesus lives the Father’s life, so all who eat and drink will live Jesus’ life. The penultimate verse concludes the Bread of Life Discourse and repeats a theme that has been prevalent throughout. The bread which Jesus gives has indeed come from heaven and will give life forever and give it permanently, unlike the manna which could offer only temporary life.
The reference to the synagogue in Capernaum is to highlight the difference between Jesus’ teaching and that of the Jewish teachers and the difference between the manna eaten by their forefathers and the Bread of Life that Jesus gives.
It is not always easy to accept ideas which challenge our old way of thinking. Often our first reaction is rejection of that idea. We refuse to think outside the box, and are content with stereotypes with which we are comfortable. We are comfortable with them because they do not threaten us or call on us to change. We prefer that our boats not be rocked. However, Jesus continues to rock the boat and challenge our ways of thinking and being. He continues to wake us from our stupor and keeps inviting us to see more and be more.
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 8:26-40; Jn 6:41-51
The symbol of “bread” is misunderstood by the people. They respond with unbelief. They grumble at Jesus’ claim that he is the bread of life and has come down from heaven. They protest that they “know” where Jesus comes from, they are aware of his antecedents. Even as they make such a statement, they are unaware of its error. They “think” they know, but in reality do not know.
Jesus addresses the crowd and asks them to stop their grumbling and then repeats the promise made earlier of resurrection on the last day for the ones who will believe. To reiterate the point that he makes, Jesus appeals to scripture and specifically to the prophets. “And they shall all be taught by God” refers to the initiative that God takes. The emphasis is on God who does the teaching. This means that Jesus’ commission is divinely ordained and not from humans. If the ones who hear realize this, then they will come to Jesus and they will have learnt correctly. This means that, while God does take the initiative, humans are responsible for responding accurately.
Jesus shares a unique relationship with the Father and is the only one who has seen Him. Those who learn have to learn to see the Father in Jesus. They have to learn that it is in Jesus that they have eternal life and that he is indeed the Bread of Life.
By using the distancing “your ancestors”, Jesus makes a contrast between the manna that they ate and the bread of life that he gives. The manna their ancestors consumed could not result in saving them from death, but the bread that Jesus gives results in a person living forever. This is because the bread that Jesus gives is living bread, a life giving bread. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. This can mean, on one hand, the incarnation, where the Word became flesh, but on the other, can refer to his death on the cross, when he will give his life for the life of the world.
The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world was to reveal the Father as God who wanted to save all people. This results in God taking the initiative in the tangible way of sending his son to become flesh for all. Even as God takes the initiative, he leaves humans free to respond to his act of love. Humans always have a choice when it comes to the gifts that God gives. They can accept them or reject them. Acceptance means life, rejection means death. There is no middle way.
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 8:1-8; Jn 6:35-40
Today’s text begins with the last verse that was read yesterday in order to place what follows in context. Jesus has stated that he is the Bread of Life and he invites all who are willing to come to him to be fully satisfied. The words “seeing’ and “believing”, which appear at 6:36 and again at 6:40 form an inclusion. The crowd has seen and yet has not perceived. They have not seen rightly and thus, cannot come to faith. This lack of proper vision is surprising when one realizes that Jesus’ primary purpose is not to hide but to reveal. He will welcome all who come to him. They will not be driven away. The purpose of his coming down from heaven is for the sake of revelation. This is the Father’s will and Jesus will do only what the Father commissions him to do. The Father’s will is inclusive and no one is to be excluded unless they want to exclude themselves. If one sees rightly and thus believes, what is gained is eternal life and resurrection on the last day. This promise combines both the present and the future.
These verses bring out powerfully the balance between divine initiative and human response. God takes the first step and remains open to anyone who is willing to come and receive the gifts that he wants to pour out. However, there will not be any coercion or pressure on the part of God. Those who come to receive from him must come freely and without reservation. The gift is ever available and free. It is not for a select few but for all.
Monday, 15 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 7:51-8:1; Jn 6:30-35
The invitation that Jesus issues to the crowd, to believe in him who was sent by God, results in the crowd asking for a sign. This demand is a clear indication that they have not grasped the meaning of Jesus’ words. They have been fed at the miraculous feeding but were not able to see it for the sign that it was meant to be. The crowd goes further in this demand by looking back at what happened in the desert during the Exodus and how their ancestors were fed. This seems strange, and even absurd, because they have been fed even more abundantly than their ancestors. This also points to how ignorant and even closed the crowd is to the revelation that Jesus continues to make.
Jesus does not remind them that he had already given them bread, but first corrects their misunderstanding. It was not Moses who gave their ancestors bread but his Father. This bread is not merely bread that was given in the past but it continues to be given in the present. It, and not the manna, is the true bread from heaven. It is true bread because it gives life to all who eat it.
Like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman before them, the crowd does not fully understand what Jesus is really offering and so, make a request for this bread. They are convinced that this bread is better than the bread their ancestors ate, but do not understand how or why. Jesus is available to them and yet, they cannot see. He gives the bread once for all and, in doing so, gives the bread always. This is why Jesus can assert that He is the bread of life. This is the first time in the Gospel of John that the “I am’ saying is followed by a predicate nominative “the bread of life”. John’s Gospel often uses this distinctive way of revealing who Jesus is. The symbols that are used by Jesus in these sayings come from human and Near Eastern religious experience. The use of these common, everyday symbols results in conveying to all who will hear that Jesus can satisfy both the base and higher needs of people everywhere. These symbols indicate that the mystery of Jesus cannot be captured by any one symbol and that Jesus cannot be put into a well defined category.
The saying also contains an invitation to come to him and be sated. Though, on the one hand, the invitation refers to a physical eating and drinking and so satisfying human hunger and thirst, on a deeper level, the invitation is to listen to Jesus’ teaching and see in him the revelation of God and so, the fulfillment of all human needs.
Bread is the staple of many people all over the world and is used to represent the basic needs of people. By use of this symbol, Jesus reveals that his mission is to be available to all and for all. He does not belong exclusively to any one group and no group can ever capture him fully. He is available to all who are open to the revelation that he continues to make. The primary form that this revelation will always take is the form of love.
Sunday, 14 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 6:8-15; Jn 6:22-29
The first three verses of today’s text, which appear immediately after the miracle of walking on the water, serve as transition verses for the dialogue with the people and the discourse on the bread of life that follow. They also serve to bring the crowd, which had eaten at the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, back into the story and so, link Jesus’ words that follow with the feeding miracle and the miracle of walking on the water.
Since the crowd has not been privy to the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, they wonder how he got to the other side. Jesus does not answer their question but draws attention to their reason for seeking him. Though they have seen the sign that Jesus gave at the miraculous feeding, they were not able to perceive it because their attention was directed to the earthly and temporary, not to the heavenly and permanent. Even as they seek him for temporary food, Jesus invites them to a higher seeking. He asks them to seek for the food that only he can give, the food that endures forever. Jesus is competent to give this food because the Father himself has approved and set his seal on Jesus. In response to Jesus’ statement to not work for food that perishes, the crowd interprets the word “work” to mean certain actions that they must perform to acquire this food. Jesus corrects this misunderstanding by explaining what is meant by “work”. They must believe in Jesus who has been sent by God.
Believing in Jesus does not only mean a verbal profession of faith. In the Gospel of John, the term believing is, most often, used to describe faith that shows itself in action. This is why believing is akin to work. Jesus does not provide merely physical nourishment, but also nourishment of the mind, heart, and spirit. To know and believe in Jesus is to be sated in every aspect of life. It is to never lack or want anything, because all things are provided in him.
Saturday, 13 April 2013
To read the texts click on the texts: Acts5:27b-32,40b-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
The post resurrection appearance of Jesus on Lake Tiberius is the Gospel text for today. The focus of these verses is on Jesus and on his “Church”. There are three parts to this story. The first part deals with the miraculous catch of fish, the second part is the recognition of the risen Lord, and the third part is the dialogue with Peter.
The text begins with Peter telling his companions that he is going fishing. The response of the other six to Peter’s statement is to affirm that they will go with him. This indicates oneness and a sense of community. Though they may not be able to fully understand the significance of going fishing at this crucial time, they collaborate with Peter. They pull together. However, despite all their efforts, they are not able to achieve anything. Jesus appears, unobtrusively, when it is light, and asks a question about their catch. They respond that they have caught nothing. They obey Jesus’ command, then, to cast the net on the right side and they are successful. The quantity of fish is so great that they struggle to haul in the net.
The second part of the story narrates their recognition of the risen Lord. The enormity of the catch is detailed in the number of fish caught, namely, one hundred fifty three. A variety of interpretations have been offered to explain this number. St. Augustine proposed a mathematical way of reading this number which is regarded even today as plausible. His explanation was that the number 153 is obtained when all of the integers from 1 to 17 are added together. This mathematical fact suggests the completeness of the number 153. Others regard the number as clearly indicating that the narration of this event is an eyewitness account of what actually happened. This explains why the number is not a round number, but 153. Still another interpretation is that 153 was the number of species of fish known to Greek zoologists of that time and thus, it signifies that every kind or species of fish was caught in the net. This symbolizes that no one is excluded.
That the net did not break, despite the fact that there were so many fish, is an indication of unity, even in diversity. That this may be the best explanation is confirmed by the fact that the verb, “to haul”, used here to describe Peter’s hauling the net ashore, is the same verb used to describe those who come to Jesus from God (6:44). It is the same verb used to describe the salvific effect of Jesus’ death when he will “draw” (haul) all people to himself (12:32). Thus, what seemed like aimlessness before the appearance of Jesus becomes, with his presence, a focussed ministry. The disciples continue the mission of Jesus even when they fish, by drawing all to him. Each one who is drawn to Jesus, and makes up a part of his community, has his/her place. In this community, diversity is not to be frowned upon but to be celebrated. It is good to be different and yet, united. It is good to be unique and special and yet, part of the whole. It is good to be an individual and yet, part of one community. Thus, exclusivity has no place in any mission that has its roots in Jesus’ mission. All are included. All are welcome. Even more, each retains his/her identity and is still very much a part of the whole. There is no need for uniformity in the family of Jesus, but unity itself is a basic, core value.
The third part of the text links this section with the previous one (21:4-14) through the words, “When they had finished breakfast”. It is a continuation of the appearance of Jesus at Lake Tiberius where the disciples, because they obey his instructions, are able to haul in 153 fish.
These verses narrate the conversation that Jesus has with Simon Peter. One possible reason why Jesus asks Peter three questions is because Peter denied him three times. However, it is important to realize that the three questions are all different. The first question that Jesus asks is inclusive. It includes the other disciples, the boat, the nets, and the fish. Jesus is asking Peter whether Peter loves him more than he loves the other disciples and/or his livelihood. The second question is direct and involves only Jesus and Peter. Everything else recedes into the background and the spotlight shifts to the two. Does Peter love Jesus? Though the third question seems similar to the second, it is really different because in it, Jesus asks Peter about friendship. It reads: “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” This is a crucial change from the earlier question because, in 15:13, Jesus had explained the true meaning of friendship when he said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” By Peter stating that he is, indeed, a friend of Jesus, he is affirming his willingness to die for Jesus.
This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that, as soon as Peter affirms his friendship, Jesus invites him to lay down his life. The text ends with Jesus inviting Peter to follow him. This command of Jesus may be seen as a general invitation to discipleship. However, here it means a specific command to martyrdom and even death. Peter knows, even as he answers, that trials and difficulties are part and parcel of his commitment. He is aware that following Jesus is not going to be easy and that he will be called to make great sacrifices. He is ready, willing, and able. This willingness is evident in the first reading of today when, as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was willing to suffer for his Lord. Not only was he willing to suffer, he also learned to rejoice in his suffering. As the second reading states, he knew that in suffering, he was privileged to imitate the lamb that was slain.
The call to follow Jesus today will continue to be heard as long as there are people who dare open their hearts to his call. While it will not always be a call to martyrdom by death, like it was in the case of Peter, it will always be a call to be a martyr or witness. This is because the voice of Jesus can only be heard today in his disciples. He can be seen and experienced today only when those, who profess to follow him, reach out to others in love.