18th May. Fifth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 6:1-7
(Under pressure, a solution is found to deal with new needs of the community. The apostles devote themselves to the service of the Word.)
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 2:4-9
(Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, we are invited to come to Christ, and to be faithful members of his church.)
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Gospel: John 14:1-12
(We have a deep basis for inner peace, because Christ has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house.)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 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.
Building up the house of God
Acts 6 shows how any class or racial discrimination was quickly resolved in the church’s early days. The Hellenist (converts whose language was Greek), complained that their widows were not getting a fair share of the church’s social services. The apostles’ solution to the problem shows how changes of practice are not only possible but necessary for the health of the church.
The episode reminds us of two important dimensions of church life: prayer and service; and that living our Christian vocation requires a balance between the two. Each of us is personally called to prayer, to a dialogue of worship with God; and we are also called to service. No matter what we do in life, our work affects others in some way. We should be of service to our neighbours; and provided we have an attitude of respect, no task we do is a menial task. Prayer and preaching the word was of primary importance to the apostles; but service to the widows and the needy in the community was also vital, so they appointed seven trusted men to attend to it, and initiated them by an evocative ceremony.
As a result, the disciples in Jerusalem greatly increased in numbers.. We may wonder how this could be revived in our day. Is the word of the Lord still spreading? Is the number of disciples increasing? In the letter of St Peter, the church is seen as a spiritual house, with ourselves as the living stones making up a house of God. Everytime we say the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘thy kingdom come.’ Perhaps by this prayer we take upon ourselves some responsibility for spreading the word and doing something for the growth of the church? We can contribute to the building of God’s house by our daily conduct and attitudes.
The cornerstone in this church is Christ himself, and he speaks to us in encouraging words today. If he is going away, it is to prepare a place for us, in his Father’s house, where there are many rooms. So, no matter who we are or what we do, there is a place for us all in the kingdom. Each has his own unique gifts of nature and grace, each is important to God, and the words of Christ here remind us again of the respect for each and all that was exemplified for us in the first reading by the action of the apostles.
There are so many notions about what God is like, and in our day many leave God aside as irrelevant because their notion of God is faulty or distorted. Jesus tells us today that if we want to see the authentic picture of God we should look to him. ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ When we see Christ in the pages of the gospel concerned for others, interested in everyone, respecting everyone, encouraging sinners to repent, we can reflect that this is what the invisible Father is like. ‘It is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.’