A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The struggling Church on earth; the Lamb reigning in heaven; the Petrine ministry today

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 5:27-32, 40-41). We are witnesses of all this, we and the Holy Spirit. This reading with its central message of the fearless witness borne by the apostles to Jesus is best understood within the broader original context. That context is the second arrest of the apostles (Acts 5:12-42). At first matters were going very well for the apostles as they preach the resurrection in Solomon’s Portico in the Temple with great success (5:12-16). Jealousy of the high priest and the Sadducees leads to the arrest and imprisonment of the apostles, followed by their miraculous release and a divine command to preach in the Temple “the words of this Life”, that is the new Life, the salvation, brought by Jesus. Hearing of their release and their renewed preaching the high priest had them arrested again and brought for interrogation (5:17-26). Today’s reading tells of this interrogation and the candid and fearless response of Peter and the apostles. They are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and call to repentance, and so is the Holy Spirit who gives the gift of faith to those who in obedience to it believe (5:27–32). There follows an intervention of the Pharisee Gamaliel suggesting caution (5:33-39), which led to the apostles being flogged (39 lashes) and discharged. The apostles rejoiced at the humiliation for Christ and continued teaching and preaching the Gospel message.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 29). I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.

Second Reading (Apocalypse 5:11-14). The Lamb that was sacrificed is worthy to be given riches and power. In his initial vision of God in glory (4:1-11), John saw the divine throne surrounded by twenty-four thrones with twenty four elders on them dressed in white (as priests) and with golden crowns (royalty). THese are angelic figures representing twelve (patriarchs?; prophets?) of the Old Testament and twelve of the New (apostles, the redeemed). Around the throne were four living creatures, representing humans, birds and beasts – all angelic creatures worshipping God. In the present heavenly scene innumerable angelic beings, as well as the elders and four animals, worship both the risen Saviour, “the Lamb who was slain” and “the One seated on the throne” (God) as equals. This presentation of the proclaimed victory of the Lamb (Jesus) in the heavenly court is intended to give confidence to his followers on earth. The Lamb’s victory is theirs.

Gospel (John 21:1-19). Jesus stepped forward, and took bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish.  This reading, from the last chapter of John’s Gospel, is really from an epilogue to the Gospel itself, although part of the Gospel down through the ages. Whereas the lectionary indicates a longer and shorter version, it is best reflect on the entire reading as one since it is designed as a unity. The first (shorter) part is about a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus at the Sea of Galilee and a miraculous catch of fish. This latter miracle is very similar to the earlier miraculous catch we find in Luke 5:1-11. In both, the central role of Peter as (future) successful fisher of adherents to the faith is highlighted. This present narrative is highly symbolic; events, words and phrases are chosen to make the point of Peter’s role in the Church. Reflection on it is easy. There are seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias (also known as the Sea, or Lake, of Galilee). Peter takes the initiative to go fishing; the others follow. Jesus at the sea shore addresses them as familiars: “lads”, rather than “friends”. At his suggestion they drop the net again and make a miraculous catch. The Beloved Disciple, here as earlier at the tomb (John 20:8), is first to recognize the Risen Saviour on the shore. Peter goes to meet him while the others tow the net and fish. When Jesus says to take some of the fish they have caught, it is Simon Peter alone who drags the net ashore “full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of so many the net was not broken” (unlike the earlier narrative in Luke 5:6, “their net was breaking”). All this is so very symbolic: Peter the fisherman takes the huge catch (of believers) safely ashore. The number 153 too must be symbolic. While some scholars think the original significance is lost forever, or is variously understood, a likely interpretation is that 153 was one figure then current for the number of the species of fish in the sea. A Greek poet writing on “Fishing” a little later than John could say: “Infinite and beyond ken are the tribes (of fish) that move and swim in the depths of the sea. … The briny sea feeds not, I think, fewer herds nor lesser tribes (of fish) than earth, mother of many”. Peter’s net will embrace all humanity. The ending is all about Peter who has denied his Master, the Good Shepherd, three times. This good shepherd, who loves his lambs and sheep, will now confide these to Peter, but only after Peter has made profession of loving Jesus “more than these” (thus the text literally), possibly more than the other disciples do, or more than he loves the other disciples, but also perhaps more probably “more than he loves all else and all others”. The episode ends with a prediction of how Peter will end his days, probably with a reference to his crucifixion (“you will stretch your hands”). Let us pray for Peter’s successor, Pope Francis.

B. Reflection & Dialogue:

The struggling Church on earth; the Lamb reigning in heaven; the Petrine ministry today

1. We are witnesses to all this and the Holy Spirit given to believers. The first reading and its biblical context are very much about bearing witness, witness of the early struggling church on earth. The apostles were miraculously released from prison and commanded by an angel of the Lord to go and speak to the people in the Temple “all the words of this Life”. The gospel message is to be presented as the words of life, or of salvation (by Paul; Acts 13:26). It is something to be proud of, to be enthused about. It is in this way that an early, and recent, generation have viewed the Catholic religion. We should look on our religion like that again today. Another point from the first reading meriting attention is the apostles’ reply: “We are witnesses to all of this, we and the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him”, that is to those who believe. The apostles are witnesses through their preaching of the Gospel, an external action of no avail unless the Holy Spirit gives internal witness as to its truth, leading to faith. In John’s Gospel, too, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit (the Counsellor) bearing witness to him, and the apostles also being witnesses (John 15:26-27). As a lesson for us today: prayer and devotion are essential for true faith, for belief, for enthusiasm for “the word of Life”, and for a life in keeping with this belief.

2. Heaven open to all. The earth no tunnel. Pope Benedict XVI on more than one occasion alerted European leaders and others of the danger of living as it were in a mental tunnel, with the view that the mind has no access to the transcendent, to any reality not perceptible to the senses or within the range of the human reason. This would exclude the supernatural and all revelation from beyond reason and the senses. It is a view all too common in Europe today, to be perceived in various forms of atheism and agnosticism. The message of apocalyptic, and the Apocalypse of John in our second readings for Mass, is quite the opposite. In keeping with the central Jewish and Christian message God and the other world are realities. Today’s second reading speaks of the vision in heaven of the glory of God and of the Lamb. Jesus’ triumph, through his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, are proclaimed.  All this is intended as a source of confidence and hope for us on earth. In last Sundays’ second reading Jesus reminded us not to fear, that he is always with us, as the one who has triumphed.

3. The Petrine ministry today. The gospel reading highlights to place of Peter, and his role in continuing the work of the Good Shepherd, “that all may be one”.  Despite the opposition of many churches East and West to Rome for centuries, the Pope, successor of Peter, has the ministry to bring Christ’s saving message to all, and to seek to heal present and past divisions. Let us pray that our present Pope will find ways to advance this, and receive a positive response.

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