It is four weeks now since the Easter Candle was lit and we welcomed new members into the Church. Four weeks is a long time to sustain the motional charge of this new life of the Spirit and the joy of Christ’s resurrection. Faith is seldom a feeling yet seems always an important part of our life and its choices.
We pray in preparation for our communal gathering of the Eucharist by reflecting on our quiet calls to serve, bless and care for the needs of friends and the unfriends whom we do not yet know. We pray for the Easter graces of fidelity and perseverance. We pray to do the actions of faith when the feelings of faith are distant.
The early Church had its own growing pains. One of these was the division of labor. The Apostles were being asked to preach and lead the prayers, and with the increase of contributions, they were involved in distributions. The Hellenists, those who spoke and used Greek in their worship service found that their faithful constituents were being a bit neglected by the Hebrew side of the community. We hear how the Twelve resolved the injustice.
What we are present to then is the first communal ordination ceremony in the early Church. Seven men are called by the community, who are known to be of the Spirit and having wisdom. Their ministry will be to continue to do the “deeds” of Jesus, the “works” which are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Faith, as with love, is shown in “deeds” more than words. The increase of these works became the new “signs” of Jesus’ being alive in His new Body the Church and brought about the increase of this same Church.
The Gospel verses begin the four chapters of John’s “Last Discourse”. The previous chapter spoke of betrayal, denial and departure. Judas departs into the dark. Peter will soon do the same and Jesus has given an instruction for service before He is taken away. The opening words of this chapter are a confirming encouragement to those who remain at table with Jesus. Jesus says plainly that He is going and He is coming back to take them to a place they know. This does not seem to comfort them.
Being left behind, excluded is both frightening and a negative experience. Thomas and Phillip voice their reaction to their being abandoned. It may seem that Jesus is playing with them or being evasive. Jesus is preparing them for living their relationship of faith in the absolutely unknowable and infinitely mysterious God, whom Jesus refers to as “Father.” They are invited to that long-life relationship by believing in Jesus as the “way” to being included by the “Father.” Jesus is the “truth” about the “ancient One.” Jesus is the beginning of true “life” which is offered through that same relationship.
The real clincher of this passage is the affirming words that those
who do believe will continue the “deeds” and “signs”
which they have experienced during their close association with
Jesus. They are promised that they will do even “greater ones.”
These “works” are those which the early Church would
perform and through which the community would attract attention
and new followers. Jesus is saying simply that he is from God and
God is in him and has been working through Him. Jesus is passing
that union on to those who would believe both in him and the “Father”
who sent him and to whom Jesus is returning. Jesus is not abandoning
them then, but inviting them to stay in union with Him and each
other through believing rather than perceiving. When Jesus did appear
to Mary Magdala in the Resurrection Garden, he asked her not to
cling to him. He is saying the same thing to his close companions.
They have drunk from his cup at table, and now they are invited
to drink from the Cup of Faith.
The “works” to which we are all called by this Gospel are the “works” of the Resurrection. They will be “greater” because they are done through the struggling of wanting to know, but trusting. “works” of the Spirit, of believing, of fidelity done by the fleshly Jesus were all Redemptive. The “greater works” done by the early Church and now by the older or later Church are done by faith. We believe, even though we have not seen.
I enjoy the various verbal responses people give when told something of news. “Really?”
“Lord, let Your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in You.” Ps. 33. “No kidding!” “Are you telling the truth?” “Incredible!” “Unbelievable!” “Are you pulling my leg?” “For real?” “Come on!” “I doubt that.” Believing in things which do not touch our flesh, our attitudes, our actions, they are easier to hear and swallow. Those things we hear, such as the Apostles heard, now that takes some serious consideration and analyzing.
We, like the Apostles, find it hard to believe when those persons and things which form the center of our hearts and lives, fail, depart, in a sense, abandon us. Faith is more than a feeling then, it is a way of suffering and eventually rising.
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