12May 12 May. Thursday, Week 7 of Easter

Saints Nereus and Achilleus; St Pancras, martyrs, optional memorial

1st Reading: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11

Paul is cross-examined by the Jewish Council, in Jerusalem

Since the Roman Tribune wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, he released him the next day and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. Then 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 clamour 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

The final part of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, on behalf of his followers

“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.”


Church unity, a difficult goal

Jesus calls unity the most characteristic mark of his disciples, a vital goal of true faith, when he prayed: “that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” Yet in the Acts, Saint Paul defends himself by deliberately stirring up debate, pitting the Sadducees pitted against the Pharisees on the subject of resurrection from the dead. Wherever he went there was controversy. Paul aligned himself with the Pharisees (23:6); however, he was not always stirring up trouble but eloquently appealed for peace and unity in 1 Corinthians and in Ephesians.

On the other hand, Jesus was not always a messenger of peace. He had put this question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? – 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” (Luke 12:51-53). His disciples were not united around the weak principle that nobody should ever dare hurt the feelings of anyone else, but rather around an intense desire to enable one another to seek and share the best.

Jesus urged his followers towards a shared vision of goodness, kindness, peace and justice. More than anything else, according to the gospel for today, this unity was to be modelled upon that of the Holy Trinity. Jesus in turn will share with his disciples the glory given to him by the Father before the world began, “so that your love for me may live in them, and I may live in them.” Looking at some of the procedures and strictures of our Church leadership, one has to wonder if they remember that unity is to be generously striven for, not imposed in an authoritarian tone. Jesus puts before us a vision that leads us beyond what we consider possible. He states that desire as something that he personally holds dear, “with I in them, and you Father in me, may their unity be complete.” If we love him, we must try to make that vision a reality.

Remain in my love

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love.” Jesus speaks those words to all disciples of every generation. Just as God the Father’s love for Jesus is a given, so Jesus’ love for us is a given. All that is asked of us is that we remain in his love by remaining in communion with him. In the case of those disciples who were with Jesus at the last supper, they did not succeed in remaining in Jesus’ love; they did not remain in communion with him. With the exception of the beloved disciples, they all went on to abandon him. According to John’s gospel, the first question the risen Jesus asks Peter is, “Do you love me?” giving Peter the opportunity to come back under Jesus’ love, back into communion with him.

The risen Lord gives the same opportunity to all of us, and gives us that opportunity over and over again. The question, “Do you love me?” is asked by the one who has loved us as the Father has loved him, who has loved us with a divine love. It is not an accusing question, therefore; it is more an inviting question calling us back into communion with the Lord if, for whatever reason, we have fallen out of communion with him. The Eucharist or Holy Communion, as we often call it, is a moment when we hear that question addressed to us in a special way; it is also an opportunity for us to respond to that question as Peter does in today’s gospel, and to renew our communion with the Lord if we have broken it. [MH]

Ss Nereus and Achilleus, Martyrs

Roman tradition identifies Nereus and Achilleus as chamberlains of Flavia Domitilla, a niece of the Emperor Domitian; with that Christian virgin, they were first banished to the island of Pontia and later on martyred in Terracina around the year 100. Pancras was martyred in Rome in the year 304, aged 14, in the persecution by emperor Dioclesian.

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