May 15 2017 (A) fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

  1. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: The Church: God’s people, a holy priesthood.
  3. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 6:1-7). They elected seven men full of the Holy Spirit. This reading gives us a glimpse of the daily life of the Jews in Jerusalem in the days of the early Church, and serves as a partial background to the early Church itself. Two, possibly three three, languages were regularly spoken there, one or two of them Semitic (Aramaic and Hebrew; either could be called “Hebrew”) and Greek. The Greek speakers were called Hellenists; the others Hebrews. A number of the Hellenists would have been born outside of Jerusalem and Palestine, but would have been resident in Jerusalem. It appears that these Hellenists had their own synagogues, with services in Greek. As a group they would have been more open to the non-Jewish world and to the Gospel message, but not all of them. Some of the Hellenists were bitterly opposed to Paul. The early Church (as indeed Judaism) would have paid special attention to the plight of widows, and it appears that the “native” Semitic-speaking (Aramaic or Hebrew) section of the Church was neglecting the widows of the Greek-speaking section. This led to the question posed in today’s reading, and the problem it presented for the Apostles in their task of preaching the Gospel message. The Twelve (apostles), acting as a group, recalled that their primary mission was attention to the Gospel mystery of prayer and preaching – both prayer and preaching were linked together by the nature of the Christian mission. The seven to be elected were to attend to the distribution of food. All of the seven elected bore Greek names, but were not necessarily all Hellenists. Some may have been Semitic-speakers with Greek names. One of them, Nicolaus of Antioch, was a proselyte, a convert to Judaism. They were accepted by the apostles in a liturgical service, by prayer and the laying on of hands. These seven chosen to serve at table are generally referred to as deacons. As Hellenists they would also probably be more open than the “Hebrews” to the mission of the Church beyond Jerusalem, and even Judaism. In the book of Acts we never hear again of then as serving at table or at food distribution. Through one of their number, Stephen, the good news soon spread beyond Israel. Another of them, Philip, was also a missioner. The text mentions the conversion of a great number of priests to faith in Christ. There would at that time have been very many Jewish priests, of the tribe of Aaron, in Jerusalem, required for service in the Temple.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 32[33]). May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.

Second Reading (1 Peter 2:49). But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood. God led Israel out of Egypt to have it become his chosen people. As they moved nearer the Mount of Revelation and the covenant God told Moses to convey this message to the people of Israel: “You have seen how I have bore you on eagles’ wings out of Egypt and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6). This gift of priesthood and a consecrated nation was linked to listening to and accepting the voice of God speaking. The priesthood spoken of here was a special priesthood, a priesthood of all believing Israel. Israel would also have another priesthood, to minister in the Tent and in the Temple, a priesthood of the sons of Aaron. The Christian community regarded itself as the heirs of Israel, with the gifts promised to Israel of old, a priesthood and all connected with it. A priesthood makes offering, and in a Temple, a temple which on earth is built of stones. When this is applied to God’s new people, this people themselves are the Temple, and the individual members of this community are the stones, living stones. The offerings this priesthood make is that of a Christian life. In this reading, as elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is presented as the living stone, the cornerstone and keystone of God’s building, but a stone rejected by unbelievers, a stone for them to stumble over. As Israel of old was called out of darkness in Egypt to give glory to God, so now the Christian community, the chosen race, royal priesthood and consecrated nation, are likewise called to praise God by a truly Christian life, God who has called them into the life of faith

Gospel (John 14:1-12). I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. This reading is part of the Farewell Discourse of Jesus to his disciples, as he is about to leave them to return to his heavenly Father and to prepare a place for them there. Jesus lays stress on the union and unity that now exists, and will continue, between himself, his Father and his disciples. They will be in the place where he is going. This leads to questions by disciples. In an answer to one from Thomas Jesus says that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. To know and see Jesus is to know and see the Father. If they know Jesus they also know the Father. Jesus makes a very important point here. A central tenet of Old Testament religion and of Judaism was that no human being can see God. As God himself had told Moses: “You cannot see my face. For no one shall see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The evangelist John says the same in the preface to this Gospel (John 1:18): “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known”. Jesus says the same thing in this reading. He does not speak from himself, but as the Father wishes. The Father shines through Jesus, and thus the God of glory is seen in Jesus, God in his love for the human race, in his kindness, concern and in many other ways. It is the Father who performs the works that Jesus does, works by which not just miracles are intended but the entire saving work of God through Jesus. And when Jesus has departed, and is with the Father, and the Holy Spirit has come, believers in him will perform the same works as Jesus did, and even greater works. Once again miracles are not directly intended, but rather the continuation of the saving work of bearing witness to Christ and establishing a community of faith and love. Jesus’ working and works were confined to Palestine; those of believers in him will be for the whole world, hence in a sense greater than the works of Jesus himself.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: The Church: God’s people, a holy priesthood.

Today’s second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, presents ample material for reflection. It contains well-known passages on the priesthood of all the faithful, and is often used in present-day discussions. One question arising from it is the relationship between this priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood of ministering priests and bishops. The topic has been discussed over centuries, and again in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. A summary of the teaching is given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1546 and 1547). The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to their own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king. The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ. While being ordered to one another, they differ essentially. The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.

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