Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter - God Opens a Door to Faith...

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year "C") May 2, 2010 - GOD OPENS A DOOR OF FAITH [Texts: Acts 14:21b-27 [Psalm 145]; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35]

There's an adage that God never closes a door without opening another. I do not know its origin, but its intent is to give people hope. The door God opens, bringing joy and confidence to Christians, is a theme of today's liturgy.

This is obviously the case with the first reading from Acts. It is an account of the completion of the first missionary voyage mandated by the church of Syrian Antioch (13:1-14:28). The evangelist Luke summed up what happened through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas on this first evangelizing tour—“all that God had done with them”—in the following terms, “God had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles”.

Claude-Guy Halle (1652-1736),"The Deliverance of St. Paul and St. Barnabas"

The missionary commission had been given by the Holy Spirit to Barnabas and Saul (Paul), who were accompanied initially by John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. They went first to Cyprus, Barnabas’s homeland, then to the province of Asia Minor where John Mark left them (13:13). Later this would become a source of friction between Paul and Barnabas, as they disagreed over the suitability of taking John Mark along on the second missionary voyage (cf. 15:36-40).

From their arrival in what is today southwest Turkey, Paul’s name comes to the fore in the narrative, henceforth always being mentioned before that of Barnabas. Together they journeyed from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, gaining in the synagogues of the region many converts to faith that Jesus was the Messiah. The new adherents came from among Jews and proselytes, Gentile believers in God who, though sympathetic to Judaism, had not fully embraced Judaism for family or social reasons.

The fact that Jews and proselytes attached to synagogues had been grounded in the study of the Scriptures probably explains how the apostles were able to establish leaders for the faith community so quickly from among their new converts. “And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe”.

Messianic expectation was high among Jews who lived in the Jewish Diaspora. The Holy Spirit led some of these to be convinced, by the preaching of a former persecutor of the church, that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was indeed God’s anointed one. Jesus’ life and ministry, seemingly called into question by the crucifixion, had been vindicated by His resurrection.

The sufferings the neophytes were experiencing for faith in Jesus’ identity as messiah were interpreted as their share in God's will for them as disciples (“through many persecutions we must enter the Kingdom of God”).

The imagery of heaven that caps the Book of Revelation this Sunday and next began with John, the seer of Patmos, gazing into the world to come and being invited to cross a heavenly threshold, “After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open!” (4:1)

One might say that the last chapters of the Bible (Revelation 21-22) are the antithesis of its opening chapters (Genesis 1-3). In Genesis, paradise is lost; in God's end-time design paradise is regained. “I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more”. In Revelation 13:1 a great beast had come from the sea, but now no harm can come to those in heaven.

In the end, when God’s saving plan is fully realized, God dwells intimately with His people. There is no more crying, pain or tears. Though life on earth may resemble a vale of tears, heaven finds God wiping away every tear from human eyes.

“Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more”. The new creation has been finally realized (“See, I am making all things new”).

Jesus’ farewell address reveals His heart. “Having loved His disciples in the world”, we are told that Jesus loved them “to the end” or, a better translation, “completely”. Jesus interprets His death on the cross as God’s glorification.

The new reality effected through His love is summarized by the Fourth Evangelist not as a new covenant but a “new commandment, that you love one another”.

Finally, we see, love is the door to fully understanding Jesus' self-offering.

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