2nd May. Friday in Week 2 of Easter
Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the church.
Athanasius (298-373) was bishop of Alexandria for 45 years (328-373), of which 17 were spent in exile. He is admired as a theologian and church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism.
First Reading: Acts 5:34-42
(The Pharisee Gamaliel prudently advises not to hastily condemn Jesus’ followers.)
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them — in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
Gospel: John 6:1-15
(The miracle of the loaves and fishes. Jesus leaves when the people wanted to make him king.)
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months” wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Discerning our motivation
When the people proclaimed him as the royal prophet foretold in the Scriptures, Jesus was so uneasy that he withdrew to the hills. If he has come to fulfill the hopes and prophecies of his ancestors, why, we wonder, does he react so negatively when the people want him for their king? They wanted to crown him so as to secure his miraculous powers for their own aims. The miracle of the loaves, that Jesus decided was good on a single occasion, the people wanted to turn into an everyday possibility. The people’s action in itself was good; the reason for Jesus’ displeasure must be found in the people’s motivation.
In the reading from the Acts, we hear of various messiahs that had arisen and how many people had been confused and misled by them. One of the leading Jews, the shrewd Rabbi Gamaliel, then proposed a wise standard for judging the issue: “If a work is of human origin, it will destroy itself; if it comes from God, no one can stop it. To fight it is to fight against God.” Even so, the apostles were not fully exonerated. The Sanhedrin decided to flog them before releasing them. But the apostles continued to preach in Jesus’ name, fully willing to suffer for his sake.
In the end we may trust that if it is God’s work, it cannot be defeated. Therefore, no worthy project is wasted energy. And as we look about us at people who have survived tests of endurance or at institutions which have continued to serve the church over the centuries, we may be convinced that such things are part of God’s plan. There are many such institutions, other churches and movements, that deserve much more respect than we often give them; and this can be a real spur to ecumenism.