26th May. Saturday of the 7th Week of Easter
Acts 28:16ff. Paul is imprisoned in Rome, for two years, awaiting trial.
John 21:20ff. John concludes: the world could not contain all that could said about Jesus.
Ending on a high note
The readings for this day are drawn from the final verses of Acts and of John’s gospel. Acts rounds out the total theological purpose of St. Luke, which extended from his earlier book, the gospel, into his second book, called The Acts of the Apostles. Luke’s gospel moves from Old Testament Jerusalem (Chs. 1-2) or from the Jordan River where the conquest of the Promised Land once began under Joshua (Ch. 3), full circle back again to Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and glorified and where the disciples are back again in the temple, praising God (Chs. 22-24). One of the central features in Luke’s gospel is found in the “Journey Narrative” (Lk 9:51; 19:28) during which Jesus’ entire ministry is put in the context of going up to Jerusalem, as a way toward the cross and glorification.
Acts too begins in Jerusalem. Its central action consists in Paul’s “Journey Narrative” (Chs. 13-28). Paul travels through the Greek speaking world several times, founding churches, almost always by way of bringing the synagogue and its Jewish worshipers (or many of them at least) into the Christian community. All of Paul’s activity leads up to Rome, where the hope of Israel triumphs in a world manifestation of the Lord. Rome, then, is the new Jerusalem where the disciples praise the Lord. Here too is the sign of the cross in the suffering and martyrdom of the saints (Paul, however, at this time was to be set free) and here also is fulfilment of centuries of waiting and prediction.
The “Journey Narrative” of Luke’s gospel and of Acts must find a path in our lives. It must work its way to the center. Every other moment and every other experience, good or bad, easy or difficult, is pointed toward this new “Jerusalem,” this “Rome.” Here we praise God for his wonderful acts in our lives. Prophecies are fulfilled. At this point the words of Jesus to the beloved disciple come to mind: “I want him to stay until I come.” As Jesus explained to Peter, this statement does not mean that we will never die but rather Jesus will come to get us. Jesus comes at the final fulfilment of all prophecies in our lives.
Both the gospel and Acts then inflame our faith and confidence. No moment is to be considered lost and useless. All can be turned into the direction of Jerusalem. That road has all kinds of stops or stages along its route. There are stages of triumph and joy; others of strenuous effort; still others of blunder and error. At times we have to go around a barrier, and then for a while we are going backward. There is the necessity of resting and recouping strength. All of these moments are found in the gospel and in Acts. Jesus can turn each experience, no matter what it may have been, into a new turn in the road toward our destination, the heavenly Jerusalem.
“If I want him to stay until I come”, Jesus’ statement about John and now about ourselves, can have an extended meaning. “Wait!” I come anew each moment of eternity. I come to revive your memories. I come to share the memories of all your brothers and sisters. “Wait until I come.” Eternity will be the continuation of the final moment in our earthly Jerusalem – Rome. Jesus comes wondrously – and he comes again and again. Even as we meditate now on the gospels for our consolation, in heaven these and thousands of other memories, too many for the world to contain the books, will be re-experienced. Our prayer now is a foretaste of that heavenly joy. What Paul said to his Jewish visitors in Rome, he says to us: we share the hope of Israel, as fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus at Jerusalem.
As Pentecost brings an end to the Easter season we read the final sentences in the Acts and the fourth Gospel, both endings that open up a life-giving future for those who trust in Jesus.
First Reading: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor – even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,
‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’ Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Gospel: John 21:20-25
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.