A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
Another name for this book could be “The Travels of the Apostle Paul,” because even though other apostles are mentioned in the book, it is mostly about the heroic and enormously important 30-year journey of this amazing man. Paul was a driven man, driven by his new found faith in Jesus, driven by his guilt for having persecuted the early Church, but also energized by the forgiveness he received from the risen Jesus and by his initial belief that Jesus would soon come again and so would the end of the world. Of course, Paul was wrong about that expectation, as were so many early Christians. We don’t know when he became enlightened and changed his belief, but what is clear is that he was faithful to the end in preaching Christ crucified and resurrected.
Here we see Paul and Barnabas at the end of one of Paul’s early journeys. We are told that “they made a considerable number of disciples” and that they “strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.’” That was an understatement. Many of the new disciples would be martyred by the Roman Empire which regarded them as dangerous to imperial authority. That is why it was most important that they leave behind someone to be in charge, and so, “They appointed elders for them in each church.” The new faith spread everywhere Paul traveled.
(Psalm 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13)
“I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.” The Jewish people had a series of kings but worshiped God as their true king. We don’t think of God as a king but rather as a loving community of persons, the holy Trinity, in whose image we have been born and live in God’s all-loving presence.
A reading from the Book of Revelation
There is a controversy about when the Book of Revelation was written, whether around 70 AD or much later in the 90s. We know from the text that it was written during a time of terrible persecution by the Roman emperors who saw Christians as a major threat to their power. In this reading, John gives the Christians hope, a new vision. “Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. . . . I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . . I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.’”
And here is the best news for a persecuted people who were in danger of death and imprisonment every day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” Imagine hearing that in the midst of terror.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 13:31-33a, 34-35)
It is now time for Jesus to leave and go to his Father. He gives the disciples a beautiful gift and a challenge: “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That’s it! Simple, powerful, life-giving, and challenging! It was all of that for the early disciples who needed to stand by one another in a time of crisis, persecution, and possible betrayals. History records many instances of persecution against the Church, in the Church, and sometimes by the Church. Could it all have been avoided if during the two thousand years of our history as the people of God we had followed this simple, profound gift, living the call of Jesus to love one another? Yes, of course, easier said than done, but possible for us today if we first totally accept the gift of merciful all powerful love from Jesus. This is not something we promise to do, and then it happens. It is a lifelong journey into the mystery of God’s unconditional, ever-present merciful love. It is a love that we can never earn, no matter how we might try. But we need not try, only accept this love that Jesus gave to the disciples two thousand years ago and still gives us today.
Painting: The Conversion of St. Paul, Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio), 1571-1610. Public Domain.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.