April 20th. Friday of 2nd Week of Easter
Acts 5:34ff. The Pharisee Gamaliel prudently advises not to hastily condemn Jesus’ followers.
John 6:1ff. Jesus feeds the crowd with five barley loaves and two fish.
We are asked to examine our motives for following Jesus and our norms for judging other institutions. Personal advancement and pleasure are ruled out by the scriptural readings. When the people proclaim him to be the prophet anticipated by Moses, Jesus is uneasy. If he has come to fulfill the hopes and prophecies of his ancestors, why, we ask, does he react this negatively when the people see the accomplishment of Scripture in him? The false motivation consisted in this, the people wanted to make Jesus their king, in order to secure the continuous presence of Jesus’ miraculous powers in their midst. What Jesus decided was good on a single occasion, the people wanted to turn into an everyday possibility. The people’s action in itself was good; the reason for Jesus’ displeasure must be found in the people’s motivation.
In the reading from the Acts, we are told that various messiahs had arisen and good people had been confused and misled. One of the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin then remarked: if a work is of human origin, it will destroy itself; if it is of God, no one can stop it. To fight it is to fight against God. Even so, the apostles are not fully exonerated. The Sanhedrin decides to flog the apostles before releasing them. At this the apostles rejoiced at the opportunity to suffer for the name of Jesus. They continued to preach in Jesus’ name.
We are not to follow Jesus for selfish motives, for our own advancement, for our political ambition, even for our security and protection. These motives are not necessarily evil. We must be concerned about ourselves. Otherwise, we may recklessly throw our life and its opportunities to the wind, wear ourselves out uselessly or too quickly, lose the normal kind of health necessary for peace of mind, and eventually give up! Advancement of a good cause very often results in the advancement of ourselves. Good work usually draws the spotlight to the one who achieves it, and that person is asked to undertake more difficult and more important tasks. And so we touch upon the force of ambition, hope and growth. Somehow or other, even our security depends upon our ability to grow and develop to live with the times and adapt to new situations.
Finally, we have the assurance: if a work is of God, it cannot be destroyed. To fight a good work is to fight against God. Therefore, no suffering is wasted energy. And as we look about us at people who have survived heroic tests of endurance or at institutions that have continued to exist over the centuries, we ought to be convinced that such expressions are godly. Otherwise, they would have died a long time ago. There are many such institutions which deserve much more respect than we often give them; this thought it a real spur to substantive ecumenism.
First Reading: Acts 5:34-42
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
Gospel: John 6:1-15
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.