Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2019
Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27
Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
The Gospel of John 13:31-33a, 34-35
Deacon Mike D’Addabbo
St. Louis Catholic Church
I do not know if you have noticed or not but, for the last four weeks including today, and for the next three weeks right up to Pentecost Sunday, we have not begun the readings for Mass with an Old Testament reading like we usually do. Instead, the first reading from the Old Testament at Mass is substituted during this Easter time period-from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday- with readings from the Acts of the Apostles. Why is this? I could not find a written reasoning of why but I have an idea.
I think this time period is today what we would call a “transition period. Much like the transition periods we see when political or corporate people leave or change jobs and new people come in. There are always, or at least there should be, people or teams in place to assist in the shift of responsibilities from one person or dept. to another. Or what we see when eighth graders move on to high school, 12th graders move on to college or trade schools and then everyone moves on to the workplace. Maybe the life transition continues if you marry, become parents etc. I guess we are always in a period of transition in our lives. It is how we live during our transition in life than will determine our final judgement. So it is extremely important to live life right, stand up to its’ challenges and make the right decisions.
The transition period for the Apostles began with the death of Jesus on the cross. That is when the Apostles became His visible leaders here on earth. Jesus appeared to them numerous times during the fifty days prior to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down upon them, breathed on them and filled them with the Holy Spirit. That transformed them from 11 guys who were afraid and hiding out in the upper room to men who set out speaking in different languages and doing what Jesus had taught them to do. Jesus had guided and mentored them and now they were transitioning into the more public roles of teaching, proclaiming the good news and bringing people to Christ. . During His public ministry Jesus taught the Apostles and others following Him how the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled and that it is now the time to move forward. The Messiah has come and the new path He is proclaiming will lead His people to eternal life if they follow His teachings. The Apostles have been chosen by Jesus to be the ones to carry out those teachings. They are His transition team to lead the Jewish people to Christ.
The Apostles were also going to face tumultuous times after leaving the upper room to do as Jesus asked to fulfill the “Great Commission” He had given them. He sent them forth to make “…disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you until the end of the age.” He gave them a big, often difficult, job, yet at the same time He reassured them they would not be alone and He will always be with them.
The Apostolic transition team began with just the eleven Apostles. On the night of the Lord’s Supper Judas betrayed Jesus and deserted all of them. Later he killed himself regretting what he had done. The first order of business the Apostles had to deal with was to elect the twelfth member. That was St. Matthias. Why twelve Apostles? Twelve represents the number of tribes of Israel that were exiled from Judah, taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and dispersed to Babylon during the Babylonian exile 600 years before. That was a period of tumultuous times for the Jewish people. They expected that the messiah would be a worldly king coming to save them from worldly trials and persecution. They did not expect Jesus in the form of a son of a carpenter be the Messiah. They did not understand that He was their heavenly king not their worldly king. They wanted a worldly king who would save them from worldly persecutions.
In Acts of the Apostles we are told of only some of the actions the Apostles take and how they are spread the good news of the Gospel. They have been sent forth to bring people to Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and to show them the path to eternal life. There are many Jewish people who, having heard of what happened in Jerusalem- the suffering, dying and resurrection of Jesus- and seeing the faith and fervor of the Apostles and listening to their teachings are becoming believers. In fact, so many people are becoming followers of Jesus because of the Apostles that the Apostles were called before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin is the local Jewish council of rabbi’s and teachers. The Sanhedrin admonished and directed the Apostles more than once to stop teaching in Jesus’ name. Peter and the Apostles rejected and disobeyed that instruction saying “We must obey God rather than man…We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” The Sanhedrin again told the Apostles to stop speaking of Jesus but instead the Apostles were happy that they were being dishonored by the Sanhedrin for teaching in the name of Jesus. It was clear their4 teachings were being successful with many. That was evidenced by the discomfort of the Sanhedrin and its attempts to stop the Apostles. The Sanhedrin were afraid of losing their power and influence over the Jewish people. They did not understand that Jesus was not an earthly king but a heavenly king and, as many of us might be, they were afraid of what they did not understand.
The original intent of the Apostles was to bring the Jewish people to Christ. There were those who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah while some of the Apostles followers included many non-Jews. They were also influenced by the Apostles words and deeds. They desired to become followers of Jesus. The Apostles recalled Jesus’ instruction to them to “make disciples of all nations” They set out doing so traveling all over and bringing many people of all nations to Christ. The transition period that began over 2,000 years ago has not ended. It will not end until Jesus comes again. The current transition team is not just the Pope, who is the apostolic successor to Peter, or the other clergy or religious. It is the responsibility of all of us. Today are Jesus’ disciples. We have inherited His instructions to make disciples of all nations. We will receive the same support from Jesus and the Holy Spirit that the Apostles did. We will also face similar skepticism but it is our faith that keeps us strong and ready to counteract it.
Fr. Jolly gave a homily two weeks ago where he talked about what it means to be part of a parish community. The parish is not just a place where you attend Mass once a week. It is a community of people that you do not only attend Mass with. You can become friends, seek and receive moral and spiritual support. Those words and actions are part of the discipleship we are called to practice. Fr. Jolly strongly emphasized that when he told us that his job here is to get all of us into heaven. We all know that He will never stop trying just like the Apostles never stopped trying.
Today’s readings give us examples that we can learn from and by putting them into practice we can become better disciples and Christians. In the first reading we see Paul and Barnabas traveling around and making a “considerable number of disciples”, including Gentiles, and establishing local churches with leaders wherever they went commending them to the Lord “in whom they had put their faith.” Today we would call those local churches parishes or, on a larger scale, a diocese. Paul and Barnabas are relying on their faith in the Lord as they travel and make disciples. Do we rely on our faith in God during our daily lives when we have to make decisions? If we are going to live a God fearing life shouldn’t we?
In todays’ second reading from the Book of Revelation we read about John seeing the holy city, a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God. And a voice proclaiming “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race…they will be His people…God…will always be with their God…” That message could not be clearer. That message is a voice that is coming down from heaven. Guess who? God is within us and He will always be. Helping and protecting us as we go about spreading His good news. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit the Apostles were no longer afraid to carry out His instructions. We do not have to be afraid to do so either.
Todays’ Gospel, even as short as it is, contains a powerful weapon for us to use in fulfilling our roles as disciples of Jesus. After Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, He tells the disciples that He will soon die. He calls the disciples “my children.” We are also His children. The weapon Jesus gives us is what he calls a “new” commandment. He tells us “As I have loved you, so you should also love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He is commanding us to love one another and, by doing so, we will be His disciples. Living that command will bring others to Christ and help them get to heaven. And that helps us get to our goal. Heaven.