Daily Reflections by Father Bert

May 22
Lectionary: Acts 15:1-6. Psalm 122: 1-2,3-4, 4-5. John 15: 1-8:

Our first reading in Acts brings us to a new challenge for Paul and Barnabas and those disciples who were inviting Gentiles into the Christian communities especially at Antioch—a home for the missionary apostles. The rest of the apostles are probably in Jerusalem. Some converts from Judaism who were strict Pharisees in observing the law are insisting that the Gentiles also must be observers of the Torah and the law of circumcision. There is a need for solving this problem which will lead to a convening of the apostles in Jerusalem with those coming from Antioch to look into these matters. For us to understand this, we Christian believers would be asked to give up our devotion to the Eucharist and to even Baptism. This would have captured the feelings of these observers of both Christianity and Judaism who were Pharisees. They could not permit neither non-circumcision nor moving away from the precepts and requirements of the Torah in what is permitted or not permitted in foods, etc.

It was a new stage in the ministry of Paul and Barnabas and those favorable to inviting people who were not Jewish into the new movement of Christianity. The apostles from Antioch have some elders with them in going up to Jerusalem to discuss this matter. Luke tells us they were joyous about what was happening among the converts and wanted what was best for them as non-Jews. Psalm 122 would be a good psalm to express their joy in going up to Jerusalem to the Temple and offering prayers. Thus, the response: “I rejoiced when I heard them say: let us go up to the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1).

Our reading from St. John is taken from the continued discourse that Jesus is giving to his disciples after the Lord’s Supper, perhaps, just before the agony he will undergo in the garden of Gethsemane. He gives us what the scholars call a “figure of speech” and not a parable in the development of the last I AM saying in John’s Gospel. He tells them “I am the true vine and you are the branches.” The I AM is definitely a title of divinity; the high Christology of John thus continues to the last moments of his life when he returns to the Father where the Word made flesh lived forever with the Spirit and the Father. It is in this figure of speech of the vine and the branches that we find the theme of remaining in and on the vine which meaning is being one with Jesus through faith and love. Only then do we really do the works of God and bear much fruit that will remain. Gail R. O’Day states: “Abide” or “remain” (Gr.meno) expresses the central them of chapter fifteen (vv. 4,5,6,7,9,10,16) : the relationship of God with Jesus with one another and in the community is one of presence and mutuality. The vine imagery symbolizes how the life of the Christian community is one shaped by love and intertwined with the abiding presence of God and Jesus.” (The New Intepreter’s Study Bible, p. 1939, Abingdon Press).

May 21
Lectionary for Acts of the Apostles 14:19-28. Psalm 145: 10-11. 12-13. 21. John 14: 27-31:

Luke in his idyllic history of the emerging Christian Church develops a large part of Acts of the Apostles through the three missionary journeys of Paul. The first is the narrative contained in today’s reading. He and Barnabas are together in this missionary endeavor. This, in my estimation, is the most difficult journey of the three for it tells how Paul and Barnabas are rejected, persecuted, and Paul is even stoned but survives and moves on. Antioch is mentioned three times within our passage and seemed to be a safe haven for Paul and Barnabas. It was at Antioch the name Christian was given to the followers of Jesus. Paul and Barnabas need to create a new support system for these fledgling communities and they do so through laying hands on some elders who will be leaders in the churches or house communities that Paul and Barnabas have established through their preaching and teaching. Paul tells the followers, “We must undergo many trials if we are to enter into the realm of God.”

The Psalm helps us to pray for those who are in the same situation of Paul and Barnabas today: “Your friends tell the glory of your kingdom, Lord.” Through the Communion of Saints, Paul and Barnabas join us in this praise of God and thanks for deliverance from many trials.

Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel is a perfect discourse in itself. The other chapters surrounding it are discourses collected and joined by John and his redactors or editors to give us the impression of a long priestly discourse on the part of Jesus. We see in today’s ending that this complete discourse probably was given at the Last Supper. “Rise, let us go from here.” The other parts of the discourses can be part of Jesus departing words to his apostles and his last will and testimony bequeathed to them with the promise of another Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) coming to them to carry out the works and the will of the Father through the plan of God’s salvation for all the peoples of the world.

There is mention of the cosmic battle between the Prince of Darkness (the devil or Satan) and Jesus the Light of the World. The light is not overcome by the darkness (Prologue of John 1: 3-4). In John, Jesus being lifted up on the Cross is his return to the Father and his great victory of the devil and his dominions. Jesus as human has accomplished the will of the Father and carried out his plan. In this way he is obedient to the Father who is greater than he. As Word of God from the beginning (Prologue of John 1: 1-2) the Word is God and the Word becomes flesh and is named Jesus. (John 1:14). Amen.

May 20
Lectionary: Acts 14:5-18. Psalm 115:1-2,3-4, 15-16: John 14: 21-26:

Homer is one of the greatest story tellers of all time and is the first poet to write an epic called the Illiad and the Odyssey. In Luke’s narrative story about the mission journey to Iconium I realized that it is similar to what Homer would have developed about this group of Greek speaking people from Lystra in Lycaonia. This is especially true in the verses 8-18 of our first reading. The people from Lycaonia are so impressed with the healing of a man who had crippled feet from birth, that they think Paul is Hermes and Barnabas Zeus. The description that follows is similar to a story that is found also in the writings of Homer (800 B.C.). I remembered having studied Homer in the 1950s where I first learned of the Lycaonians. It is especially in the incident of the priests bringing wagons filled with flowers and sacrificial offerings that is so similar. Paul was considered as Hermes by them for he was the spokesperson and healer while Barnabas may have had the appearance of Zeus an elderly god of wisdom and power. I do not think that Luke took this from Homer but the similarity of the story in Homer always come to mind when I read this passage. After all, every good poet in the area of epic writing goes back to Homer for insights. Luke may have read Homer. Even Paul cites Greek poets in Athens and tries to reason with the Athenians about the Resurrection. They tell him to come back again and speak more about this so called “resurrection from the dead.” All good poets and authors rest on the shoulders of the great ones of the past, especially, Homer.

The Psalm 115 fits well the situation mentioned by Luke in Acts. It is a hymn of praise for God and not for idols or human images of God. “Not to us, O Lord, give glory but to your name.” (v.1). This psalm is sung in a liturgy that extols God as the benevolent Creator who is to be glorified. God is mentioned fourteen times while the idols made by the Gentiles are simply images of themselves.

In the brief selection from the Discourse of Jesus at the last Supper, John helps us enter into the heart of Jesus as or like the Beloved Disciple. This disciple is a model for plumbing depths of what Jesus’ calls the commandment of love. In this short excerpt we find the word love used seven times either as a noun or a form of a verb (agape, agapan). In this Gospel, Jude is the one who asks Jesus why he does not reveal himself to the world. This is the only time Jude has words in a Gospel. Jesus is telling him and his other disciples that the revelation of who he is to the world will come through their becoming missionary apostles who bring the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection to the nations. This will happen after the resurrection when the Holy Spirit will be their Comforter, and Advocate. John names the Spirit the Parakletos which in Greek means helper, intercessor, or advocate in a court. Jesus will assure us that we will not be left as orphans when it comes to our relationship with him and his Father. Amen.

*** N.B. for reference to Homer and Lycaonians see Homer, Odyssey 17:483.

May 19
Lectionary for Fifth Sunday after Easter: Acts 14: 21-27. Psalm 145: 8-9. 10-11. 12-13. Revelation 21: 1-5. John 13: 31-33. 34-35.

If Luke had not written the Acts of the Apostles we would never have had much information on the beginnings of the Christian Churches that were left after the apostles passed on. The Acts of the Apostles is the only primary source for the foundation of the Church on Pentecost. It is through this inspired idealized history of the Church that we can appreciate the power and authority of Jesus living today in our hearts and in the churches all over the world plus the billion believers in Jesus. Through the descent of the Holy Spirit upon those in the upper room in Jerusalem the apostles and their friends, including the mother of Jesus, opened the door of faith and love in Jesus for all other nations besides their own. Its beginning is with those who had gathered from many parts of the Mediterranean world at that first Pentecost experienced by the followers of Jesus, some one hundred and twenty persons. We have been reading about the effect of the Holy Spirit on the preaching and witnessing of the apostles and other believers who brought Jesus to the Jews first and then to the nations of that time. We follow the legacy and traditions and churches left behind by these apostles. Jesus is alive in Christianity today.

Today, in our first reading from Acts, we hear of the witness and preaching of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey recorded by Luke; it is successful and prepares the way for future missionary journeys by the other apostles. Luke highlights three of these journeys of St. Paul where we learn of the emerging Church after the resurrection of Jesus.

Psalm 145 is a transition psalm for leading us into the great Hallel psalms of 146-150. It is an alphabetical psalm (acrostic) containing all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in its stanzas. Most psalms have different inscriptions for the director of the music or for other historical reasons, etc. Psalm 145 is the only psalm that says “a prayer.” The entire book of Psalms is called Teffilim in Hebrew which means prayers. Yet, each psalm has a different word for its inscription when one reads it before the psalm verses begin. God is praised throughout this psalm which is a psalm of praise of God under different titles for the sacred One.

Our passage from Revelation is a very consoling one after all of the disasters in the visions and written addresses to the seven churches in the region of northern Asia Minor (Turkey). Our present passage of Rev. 21: 1-5 is often used at Masses of Christian Burial. Homilists develop the theme of comfort and consolation contained within this selection from the Apocalypse (original title of the book, Apocalypsis in Greek). The phrases “every tear will be taken away” and “death is no more” and “all things are made new”are very comforting and consoling words.

We continue our readings from the Gospel of John on this Sunday and find ourselves at the center or heart of John’s Gospel. We are led by verse 33 into the discourse of the Lord for chapters 14-17. The commandment of love (agape) is “to love as Jesus loves.” These are Jesus’ last words and testimony to his apostles at the Last Supper which is only hinted at in this Fourth Gospel. Some say the love demanded by Jesus is stronger in the Synoptic Gospels. I think the commandment of love in John goes deeper into a total commitment that is a covenant which means one must lay down one’s life for others. This radical dimension of love is seen in Jesus’ own death on the Cross where his love is so powerful that it brings universal salvation from his sufferings, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into glory. This is the Johannine message we have heard through readings from that Gospel. Our response is to become other Beloved Disciples. Amen.

May 18
Lectionary (Birthday of Pope St. John Paul II) Acts of Apostles 13:44-52, Psalm 98: 1.2-3.3-4. John 14: 7-14:

Paul and Barnabas continue on their missionary journey. They always start in the synagogue, but as we read today, they are sometimes asked to leave and are even persecuted for their preaching and witnessing to Jesus and the Good News he brought to all who believe. They teach the listeners that it is in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, and their Messiah, they have salvation, the promise of eternal life through Jesus’ resurrection. There will be two more missionary journeys for Paul. Barnabas will separate from him and he will often be alone in his witnessing and preaching.

Often because of the crowds they drew, the Jewish leaders were jealous and thus Paul is told to leave the synagogue; he then turns to the Gentiles for whom he becomes a light for them on the road to salvation. The Psalm used for today was also used in his preaching as handed down to us by Luke: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” (Psalm 98:3).

Such universality that we find in this Psalm does reflect for us the spirit and enthusiasm of Paul and Barnabas in their bold preaching. It is also characteristic of the message of the great Prophet Isaiah and shows us the history of salvation at work not only for Israel but for the whole world. Christ becomes the Universal Christ. There is great hope given to us the readers of today in this kind of Good News where we learn God is ever faithful to the promises made to Abraham and his descendants forever. The psalm is fast moving, jubilant, and showing God as an active agent in all of creation.

Our continuous reading in the Book of Glory chapter 14 presents Philip asking Jesus to show him and the apostles the Father. Jesus answers, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father. I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Jesus does the works of the Father and is always united to the Father being one through the Spirit. This is not a complicated statement about the Trinity or a theological treatise of the Trinity in logical abstract words. Jesus is our way and the foundation for this initial presenting of the Trinity. It flows from his divinity and humanity which enables him to talk plainly to us about the Father and the Spirit. This will follow in the chapters that continue in John chapters 14-17. May the power and the glory and the honor be given to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

May 16
Lectionary: Acts 13:13-25. Psalm 89:2-3, 21-22, 25.27. John 13: 16-20:

The missionary journeying of Paul and Barnabas continue while John returns to Jerusalem. Again they visit synagogues first, and as was the custom, they were invited to say something to the gathering. This gives them an opportunity to preach and witness to God’s covenant with David down to Jesus a descendant of David who fulfills all of the commands that God has given him and renews the covenant with a powerful message of love that enables Jesus to lay down his life for the salvation of those coming to believe in him. The apostles are preaching in southern Turkey which is located on the far northeast corner of the Mediterranean. They move from Perga in Pamphylia to Antioch in Pisidia.

Luke creates the sermons that we hear in Acts—possibly as many as twenty of them-- that form part of a literary genre that is used in most of these speeches of the apostles. They are worth looking at and remembering for what they contain within the text of Acts. Basically, they are a summary of both the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures made by God to Israel and then the outline of the Gospels with emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus and his redemptive active of love and forgiveness for all who come to believe in him.

Our Psalm fits these speeches for it is a hymn of salvation history seen through the covenant of God made with Israel. This psalm is a royal psalm focusing on David the king. More than other psalms in this genre, this one focuses on the magnificent covenant relationship God has with the anointed one, King David. We learn much about the nature of God’s covenantal love with Israel in this psalm 89. Our response verse or prayer is: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.” (Psalm 89: 2).

Our continuous reading of John’s Gospel brings us today into the “Book of Glory” which starts with excerpts chosen from chapters 13-17. We leave the Book of Signs (chapters 1-12) and enter a section of readings that have the theme of love and the love commandment Jesus has given us. It is acted out by Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples and telling them they are his friends not his slaves or servants. They must, however, learn the commandment of love encased in the heart that is humble and that leads by serving one another. Not an easy task in the power hungry atmosphere we find ourselves and in the competitive nature of most people in our culture. The “love” that Jesus is speaking of is a covenant love and the word used for this in the New Testament is “agape”. It implies a self-giving love, a permanent love, and a commitment. This resides in our hearts that must allow the Holy Spirit to dwell in them if we are to be true followers of Jesus. By our continuous readings from John from chapters 13-17 we learn and deepen our love which helps us understand what Jesus is teaching us in this Gospel of the Beloved Disciple. We are to be like the Beloved Disciple who stands at the foot of the Cross with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as Jesus entrusts her to John the Beloved of the Lord. Amen.

May 15
Lectionary: Acts 12: 24-13: 5. Psalm 67: 2- John 12: 44-50:

The fifty days of unbounded joy of the Easter Season continue through the readings that we have each day for listening to, meditating upon, and believing in. We learn how the Christian community continues to grow through Barnabas and Saul (Paul). As is their custom they go to the synagogues first to proclaim Jesus and his resurrection and salvation. It they are not received they move on to invite Gentiles who seem to be responding everywhere to their preaching. They are sent to the island of Cyprus and start to preach in the synagogues; they move on to the Gentiles or those who are not Jewish. No one is excluded.

Our Psalm is a universal call to all to praise God. I used this Psalm when asked to offer a prayer for a large gathering of those involved in Christian – Jewish Dialog. I read it first in Hebrew and then in English. Since it is divinely inspired as a hymn of the Bible it included all who were Christians and all who were Jews. It is the best psalm for such dialog. There are others, but this gets to the heart of the matter of dialog.

As you listen or read the passage from John’s Gospel today, you are aware that you have already heard what is being said by the last redactor of the Fourth Gospel. This is the summary of all that has gone before in Chapters 1-12 which is called the Book of Signs in John. Faith in Jesus is the golden theme running through those chapters. John as an inspired and talented author, gives us a summary for the first part of his Gospel. He will follow with chapters 13-21 which will emphasize the glorified and human love Jesus has for all humankind. This is called the Book of Glory even though the word love dominates its pages. Perhaps, after the resurrection, Christ pours more love upon those who are believers. Returning to the Prologue the following verseis a summary of the Book of Signs of chapters one through twelve:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But to as many as received him he gave the power of becoming God’s sons and daughters. John 1: 12-13).