16 May. Thursday in the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 22:30ff. Paul is cross-examined by the Jewish Council, in Jerusalem.
John 17:20ff. The final part of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer
First Reading: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11
Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them.
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks. That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
Gospel: John 17:20-26
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Making God Known
Jesus names unity as the most characteristic mark of his disciples, the sign and a faithful community, as he prayed: “that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” Paul of Tarsus often appears as anything but a messenger of peace and unity. In the Sanhedrin he deliberately stirred up a debate which he knew would turn into a shouting match – if not into physical abuse. He pitted the Sadducees against the Pharisees on the subject of the resurrection from the dead, aligning himself with the Pharisees (23:6).
But Paul was not always stirring up trouble. He wrote eloquently about peace and unity in 1 Corinthians 11-13 and in Ephesians 4. And neither was Jesus always a messenger of peace. He had put this question to his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother”.
While unity and peace remain a sign of true discipleship, Jesus was not saying “Peace at any price!” Certainly he asks his followers to display patience and forebearance, to know when and how to be silent, even to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). But Jesus also called for courage (if a hand scandalize you, cut it off!, Mark 9:43-48), for truth (let your language be yea or nay, Mt 5:37), for generosity and for fidelity, as his statement on marriage and divorce makes clear, for total dedication as in his demand, “let the dead bury the dead”, (Luke 9:60).
Paul could not compromise on the resurrection. Unity was not worth such a cost! Therefore, he clearly announced: “I am a Pharisee and was born a Pharisee. I find myself on trial now because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” Paul sought unity, in this case with the Pharisees, unity that kept a vision of the highest hopes before others. At the same time Paul’s words manifest an acute prudence. He averted the attack from his own person by pitting Pharisees and Sadducees against one another. Both were opposed to Paul for declaring that Jesus was the promised Messiah. A person, therefore, does not throw caution to the winds in order to rally round the banner of reckless courage. Just as weakness is not worth the cost and is to be despised, neither is imprudence to be advised, even if it comes under the name of bravery.