Though we are in the Easter season, the Gospel reading is from the centre of the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John which Jesus gives before his departure from this life to the next. This is not as strange as it may appear at first glace. One reason for the choice of this reading seems to be to prepare for the Ascension (the departure of Jesus) and Pentecost (his return again through his Spirit) which the Church will celebrate soon. Another reason seems to be the content and meaning of the verses that make up this part of the discourse.
The focus in the opening verses is not so much on the departure but on confidence which the disciples are exhorted to have. The reason for this confidence is that even though it might seem that Jesus is being defeated by death, the reality is that he will overcome death. Not only will he do that, but after having prepared a place for every believer, he will return to take them with him. This will prove (if proof is required) that he is alive and that with him and the Father, all believers will continue to live in a relationship that is governed only by unconditional love and mutual self giving. Thus as disciples of the Lord who was raised from the dead and who ascended into heaven, we are called to that same confidence.
The Way to this life is Jesus himself. However, Jesus is not merely the access route to God but is also the embodiment of this life in his being the Truth and the Life. He is so because in him as never before the Father is revealed. This revelation is made in the words of love that Jesus speaks and also in the loving actions that he performs. This is why to believe in God means also to believe in Jesus. This kind of faith will lead to the disciples being empowered and their continuing the work begun by Jesus which is to reveal to all the unconditional and magnanimous love of God.
The continuation of this work was not an easy task because of the very high standard set by Jesus. This is evident in the first reading of today in which we read of partiality and with it animosity and tension between two groups both of whom were followers of Christ and so Christians. However, because of what they had learned from the Lord, they did not let this brief hiccup get them down, but worked at it with practical wisdom and were able to overcome it and not only restore unity but also continue to draw others to their number through the word which they manifested in their deeds. They were able to do this because they continued to remember that Christ himself was the corner stone and so the very foundation of their life and also the living stone and so the one would continue to sustain, nourish and nurture them on their journey.
Regarding Christ as their foundation and following in his path by drawing their life and inspiration from him will mean that there will be hardships, trails and tribulations from within and without. Perseverance, however, is the key, and they must continue to persevere because they are a chosen race or generation which signifies that since they are related by blood, they have a common origin and so a common Father. This makes them brothers and sisters, members of one family. They are also a kingdom of priests, which means that they have been set apart from others to be mediators of the new covenant between God and his people. They have been called out of the darkness of their sin to live in the wonderful and marvelous light of God’s magnanimous and generous love and to make that love manifest to others.
Today more that 2000 years later the call is the same and the challenge still remains. It is true that when we look around us at the reality that confronts us, we might be sometimes tempted to throw in the towel. As with the first Christian community, division, partiality and selfishness exist both in the world and in the Church. The lofty description of Church that the reading from 1 Peter states as a fact seems to be only a distant dream. On the contrary we seem to be going the way the Church was going as narrated by the text from Acts in the first reading.
However as Christians, we have been sanctified by the same Spirit that sanctified Jesus and the first Christian community. Since this is so, we have the same obligation or task that had been assigned to them, namely manifesting to all those who do not yet believe, the forgiving love of God who is Father. We must respond to the harsh realities around us with a practical wisdom and confidence in the promise of Jesus as the first Christian community did even in the midst of their own trials and tribulations. This is done not merely by the words that we may speak but more by the loving actions that we perform. We continue that which Jesus began for we are now his body on this earth, making it present throughout the world. When we reach out to heal the sick, care for the poor, love the unlovable, and pour ourselves out for the untouchables of the world, then indeed we are living out our call and mission.