17May 17th May. Saturday in Week 4 of Easter

First Reading: Acts 13:44-52

(After failing to convert the Jews, Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles.)

The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'”

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Gospel: John 14:7-14

(Jesus tells Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”)

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Adapting to changing times

Adapting our understanding of God to large-scale changes in the culture of our times can be difficult and quite divisive, as the Catholic church found in the wake of Vatican II, and is still experiencing fifty years later, with traditional doctrines being critically tested against some widely shared values of our times. Such trends and changes can be a way of fulfilling Jesus’ words to the apostle Philip: “Whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.” How can our works be greater than those of Jesus? Is he teasing us with unreal praise or inviting us, prodding us to move on?

Here Jesus is expressing something that parents often think and say to their children: “what I couldn’t do, you must do! Take up my dreams and make them real in your lifetime.” Jesus dreamed of a mission to the entire world and yet in practice could not act upon it in his lifetime. He told the Canaanite woman, just outside the territory of the Jewish people, “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And when she persisted, he stood his ground against her argument, before saying, “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass” (Matt 15:21-28). Your wish, Jesus seemed to say, is my wish, how I long to see us all one, joined around the heavenly banquet table. No one would then have to survive from crumbs that fall to the ground!

When Paul and Barnabas were excommunicated from the synagogue and expelled from the territory, it served the spread of the Gospel. On this occasion Paul quotes from Isaiah: “I have made you a light to the nations, a means of salvation to the ends of the world.” We can reread this in the context of any personal crisis or change, in the conviction that the whole process is under the loving, guiding providence of our God.