5th Sunday of Easter 2017 – Year A
14 May 2017
Acts of Apostles 6.1-7
1 Peter 2.4-9
Sometime ago I met a woman whose husband had died very suddenly because of cancer and she herself had been recently diagnosed with cancer too. She said that it was obvious to her that God was punishing her. When I asked why, she replied that many years ago when her husband was working for his company overseas for a few months she had had an affair with another man. She became pregnant and had had an abortion. She believed that the cancer now was God’s way of punishing her. This is certainly not true. But she is like many people who believe that God punishes them because of their sins. Yet Jesus spent a great amount of time during his public life healing people. Nowhere do we find Jesus punishing people for wrongdoing. And in the Garden of Gethsemene he begged his Father to spare him the suffering that he would undergo because of his enemies. How then can we say God punishes us?
In the gospel today Philip says to Jesus: ‘Let us see the Father and we will be satisfied’. Jesus replies: ‘Have I been with you all this time Philip and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father.’ Many of us have grown up with and maybe still have a wrong image of God. Jesus is telling us very clearly here that when we read the gospels and see him in action we see who God really is and to say that God punishes us is to deny how Jesus lived and loved. We must of course avoid the danger of thinking that I can do anything I like since God doesn’t punish me. That would be an insult to God instead of doing his will in gratitude. It would also lead us to punish ourselves. One simple example is that if I decide to have casual sex and get AIDS, who punishes me? Surely myself, certainly not God.
So who is the God Jesus reveals to us by his own life? He tells us as he did to Philip: ‘Look at me and you will know who God is’. Of course, Jesus as a human being was limited whereas God is not but in the fullest way possible, humanly speaking. Jesus reveals to us who God our Father is and what he is like.
The first thing we can say is that Jesus reveals a God who is a Consoling God. Here in today’s gospel Jesus is trying to console the disciples. They hear that he is going away and so they are fearful of the future. He simply says ’Let not your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me’. I will not leave you orphans. I will not abandon you. I will be with you every step of the way through the Holy Spirit that I will send you. It was like when my uncle was dying and had two young children. On his deathbed he asked his brother to promise that he would take care of his children after he died. The brother promised he would and in fact did so. Is the promise of Jesus any less trustworthy than that?
Jesus also assures them that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We all know that in our world today, on TV, on the radio, through advertisements that there are many calls on us to listen to these as if they could give us happiness. Jesus is telling us very simply and clearly that he will guide us if we turn to him and try to live by his values and teaching. It is one thing to know the Truth and to know the Way, what makes Jesus so different is that he is the Life. He is the Lifegiver who empowers us to be lifegivers in turn. I can only say from my own personal experience that the more I try and live by the gospel values of Jesus by calling on the help of the Holy Spirit the more certain I am that the way of Jesus who is the Way is the only sure path for me. I know equally how life-giving he has been and is for me.
Then Jesus gives us this incredible promise. “Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works because I am going to the Father”. This might seem an exaggeration but it is not. We know Jesus was limited to his own areas and time. Today his name is known all over because his followers wherever they went brought their faith in Jesus with them. This is seen in the lives of all the poor Europeans who emigrated to the United States in the last centuries. Most were uneducated but they lived by their faith and witnessed to Jesus. They would hardly have thought of themselves as missionaries but they certainly were. They spread the kingdom far beyond what Jesus did.
Jesus is telling us how incredibly good we are in his and so in God’s eyes. He is affirming us as best he can saying that we can do marvellous things to bring about his kingdom. We don’t have to be priests or religious. When we do acts of love, forgive people, share with others and all this very often in small, hidden ways we participate in doing what Jesus was doing. We owe it to Jesus and God and ourselves to believe in our own capacity for greatness mostly through small daily acts of kindness. By the way we pass on the faith and gospel values to our children etc. Jesus believes in us, do we believe in ourselves?
Then when Jesus promises the disciples that there are many rooms in his father’s house, he is saying that Heaven is as wide as God’s heart which is limitless. He says that there is room for us all if we choose to go there.
“Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank you enough for all your goodness to us? Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA