May 15, 2022
by Mike Cherney
Creighton University's Physics Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 54

Acts 14:21-27
Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
Revelation 21:1-5a
John 13:31-33a, 34-35

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The passage from the Acts of the Apostles describes the end of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. The selection from the Psalm is part of an acrostic poem. The passage from Revelations focuses on the new heaven and the new earth. The Gospel is Jesus’ charge to love one another given at the Last Supper.

Today we are given three readings that span the time before Jesus’ Passion to a time after the Pentecost experience. I find myself drawn in a number of directions by these passages. In a sense I feel this may mirror my experience of Psalm 145. Today’s responsorial psalm is a part of a poem where each line begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Rather than experiencing a developing theme, in Hebrew one would experience a well-defined structure of somewhat related statements. Unfortunately, I cannot read Hebrew and I am left with a collection of thoughts even whose structure is lost in translation.

In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas experienced a call of the Spirit in the previous chapter of Acts. They set out on a missionary trip that led to the groundwork for new Christian communities, but at the same time it revealed the serious hostility of certain Jewish communities and the misinterpretations of their position by followers of the Roman religions.

If I imagine myself as Barnabas, I see a world whose response is constantly in flux. At this point, it is not clear how this story will end. (Spoiler Alert: Not so surprisingly, tradition has Barnabas martyred in his native Cyprus because of his success in preaching the Gospel.) Barnabas sees that there are some achievements, but there is also resistance from the Jewish authorities, and there will be resistance within the followers of Jesus to including those who did not first become Jewish. From Barnabas’ perspective, I see Paul as a charismatic (and perhaps somewhat obsessive compulsive) figure. I have always felt an admiration for Paul. In many ways I feel that he was the person who transformed Christianity from a regional sect to a broad-based movement. In today’s passage, the missionary journey concludes and, while noting serious hardships, it is labeled a success; new communities of believers have formed, and the scope of the movement has been expanded.

The transformation brought about by Jesus is figuratively presented in the text from Revelations. There is hope for these new beginnings, changes which will not allow heaven and earth to ever go back to being the same.

The Gospel has me calling to mind the nuns who would lead us in singing “They will know we are Christians by our love”. These days I find this to be a daunting mandate. I ask myself “How could someone identify me as a Christian based on the love that I show?” I am not content with the answers which I identify.

Dear Lord,
These days I find myself lacking some direction in my thoughts. The death of an in-law on Easter Sunday did not leave me consoled with the thought of a resurrection. Instead, I find myself empathizing with those experiencing a loss.
My current experience of You feels like the acrostic poem whose structure is lost in translation.
Here I draw some solace from the steadfastness of Paul in the face of challenges and hardships.
Hopefully my acrostic poem will end with Z being for zeal.

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