03May 3rd May. Thursday of the 4th Week of Easter

Acts 13:13ff. Paul’s summary of Israel’s history, up to the time of Christ.

John 13:16ff. Whoever receives one whom I send receives me – for I know whom I have chosen.

History: God at Work

In today’s two readings a line of continuity stretches from eternity to humanity and through Israel’s history upon planet earth. Jesus is sent by the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but in his very person. He himself is that message drawn from the heart and intense life of the Godhead; he is the great I AM. This title, I AM, not only identifies Jesus with the eternal Godhead, but it also involves him in the long history of Israel. God had revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as the mysterious I AM (Ex 3:14)… “I am who I am, always there with you.” Put into the third person, it reads: “He who is always with you.” As such, it was received in the Hebrew form of Yahweh.

God revealed himself to Moses as the one who will always be with his people. In some way God’s presence and merciful interaction with the lives of his people determine who God really is: He is as they find him in their questions and answers, their hopes and struggles and triumphs. This sacred name is accepted by Jesus as his own: “that… you may believe that I AM,” absorbing into himself the entire history of Israel, and when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, this entire history became incarnate, in the flesh and blood of the Man from Galilee.

While preaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (different from the Antioch in Acts 11:19), Paul reviews many of the great moments of Israel’s history, with special attention to Moses, David and John the Baptist. The line of continuity extended from the Godhead to earth, from the Patriarchs and Moses to David, to John the Baptist, and to “the one who comes after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to unfasten.”

Within this very observable line from the eternal God to Jesus all through Israel’s long history, some very evident disruptions and new settlements occurred. Israel was persecuted and oppressed with hard labour in Egypt. Entry to the land of promise was delayed for the forty years while they wandered in the desert and then it had to be won by conquest and by a long period of taking root. Saul was rejected as king; and by the time Jesus appeared, the Davidic dynasty too had disappeared from history. This series of up’s and down’s, of rejection and renewal continues with Jesus too. One of his own disciples betrayed him, when Judas “raised his heel against me.” But just after announcing his betrayal, Jesus added, “I tell you this before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may know that I AM.”

Disruptive change of plans cuts across the line of continuity in history. At first, such interruptions would seem to be the work of the devil. But within the life of Jesus such explosions marked the very presence of God: “that… you may believe that I AM.” Certainly his betrayal by Judas Iscariot is attributed to his possession by Satan (Luke 22:3). Yet if we remember that God’s plans are mysterious and beyond our comprehension, and that at crucial moments God takes over and brings us to new decisions, attitudes and insights, we can take hope. God will suddenly move in ways never anticipated ahead of time; circumstances will converge in ways that leave us breathless.

At such moments God’s providence comes to the fore, showing who is really in control. We are not in control! It is not that we ourselves are totally passive. On the example of Jesus and of Paul we turn to God in prayer, and realize from the start it is God who has directed all the events. We believe and are at peace.

First Reading: Acts 13:13-25

Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, aying, “Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.” So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:

“You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”

Gospel: John 13:16-20

Truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’

I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”