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Fifth Sunday Of Easter, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Fifth Sunday Of Easter, Year C

Acts 14:21-27; Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35 

The first reading continues a series of readings from Acts of Apostles. The setting is the end of the first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas are still operating as a unit, an arrangement that will end at the beginning of the second missionary journey. The reason: on the first journey they were accompanied by John Mark. His mother’s name was Mary of Jerusalem. About halfway through the journey John Mark decided to return to his mother. We know of no reaction of Paul when J. Mark left, but Paul never forgets. When Paul and Barnabas decided to do a second journey, Barnabas, who was also J. Mark’s cousin, wanted to take J. Mark along. Paul was adamant, “Absolutely not! He left us on the first journey. He is not going along this time.” Paul and Barnabas argued and parted company. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed for Cyprus.

In the reading the two missionaries are closing down their operation in what is now central Turkey. “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith.” An important note is their imposition of hands on elders of each community, thus establishing them as replacements to continue their missionary activities. It is true, your translation will read “commended them,” but Luke’s Greek clearly indicates a “laying on of hands.”  When they reached the southern coast of Asia Minor, they set sail for Antioch to report to the Christian Community that had constituted them as missionaries through prayer and the imposition of hands. Upon their arrival, the Christian Community assembled to hear their report. Luke sums up their report in these words, “They reported what God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (heathens, pagans).”

The Responsorial Psalm, 145, is a hymn of praise to God the King. It does not seem to have any special connection or theme in common with the first reading. The People’s Response summarizes the Psalm, “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” Perhaps one may suggest a slight connection to the second reading, in which God is said to be seated on a throne. And that is usually how kings are described.

The second reading continues a series of readings from the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation). The frightening destruction heralded by the opening of the seven seals, the numerous battles, the mass killing, the countless insertions (54 times) of the seven this and seven that — all of this finally comes to a grand climax in the last chapter of the Apocalypse. John, the Christian prophet who is the best claimant to have authored this strange book, is still absorbed in the vision that began in the first chapter. The reading ends with the words, “Behold, I make all things new!” So what’s new? First John sees a new heaven (sky) and a new earth. The old heaven (sky) and old earth passed away. The sea ceased to exist. In Scripture the sea is frequently a symbol of chaos. It harbored huge monsters, like Leviathan. Even in the gospels, Jesus has to save his disciples from the chaos of the sea. Now that a new heaven and a new earth had been created, they had to be colonized. John sees a holy city, a new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God.” Who will inhabit the new city? John has the answer, the human race. They will not be alone. “God will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them.” God’s activity in the new Jerusalem includes consolation. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There shall be no more death nor mourning, wailing or pain.” A wonderful closing when we consider the awful things we have heard and seen throughout the Apocalypse.This Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus for the fifth time, yet we are going back to the Last Supper for our gospel reading. Judas has just departed from the table to go about his work of betraying Jesus. Strangely he goes about his deed after Jesus commanded him, “What you do, do it quickly.” John adds, “He immediately went out,” and adds ominously, “and it was night.

In the Gospel of John, night and darkness are often symbols of evil. Jesus’ response may surprise us, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” Does this mean that the betrayal planned and completed was the proximate cause of Jesus’ glorification, of his triumph? Yes, if we understand that in the theology of the Gospel of John the glorification of Jesus is a process. It begins with the betrayal and continues through the arrest, torture, trials, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and return to the disciples with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then Jesus addresses his disciples as “Children.” John uses the Greek neuter plural, so the translation could be rendered as “Kids.” Jesus takes the role of father of the Christian Community. When a father knows that he is about to die, he makes a last will and testament. He wills something to the disciples. What is it? “I give you a new commandment. Love one another, as I have loved you.” The meaning of these words was expressed earlier at the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a symbol of being their servant. At that time he said to his disciples, “I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” There is also Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve . . . .” The Church Father Tertullian, in Apology 39, 7, noted that pagan Roman observers said of Christians interacting with one another, “See how they love one another.” This is the exact conduct Jesus asked of his disciples, when he said at the end of today’s gospel reading, “This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”