|The Sánchez Archives
SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
Establishing New Traditions
ACTS 15:1-2, 22-29
REVELATION 21:10-14, 22-23
In the Broadway play and movie of the same name, Fiddler on the Roof, the chief protagonist was Tevya, a poor Russian Jew struggling to make a life for himself, and his family. Economically and politically strapped by the harsh conditions of life prior to and during the Russian Revolution (ca. 1917), Tevya the milkman could hold unto little else except his traditions. However, even these began to elude him when his eldest daughter refused to acquiesce to an arranged marriage and opted for love amid poverty rather than wealth without love. Further shaken by the marriage of his second daughter to a Russian who favored the revolution, it seemed that Tevya could bear no more. But the final blow came when his youngest daughter chose to marry a Christian.
When Tevya argued with his daughters in favor of the centuries old traditions of their people, they countered him on every point with the simple explanation, But Papa, I love him; he loves me. Love proved to be a force powerful enough to overcome separatism and the distrust of others and their ways on the grounds that they did not share the same roots, background and beliefs. In Tevyas family, love began to establish new traditions, though not easily or rapidly. The family which was the early church also struggled with the task of surrendering old ways and of learning and establishing new ones as it grew and developed. Based on love and founded in peace, the churchs new traditions were inspired, supported and guided by none other than the Holy Spirit.
Promised by Jesus to his own, the Holy Spirit assured the early Christians of the abiding presence of God and of the power of the risen Jesus. As the Johannine evangelist explains in todays gospel, that presence and power would sustain Jesus followers during the little while between his two advents. Just as Jesus had instructed his disciples, so would the Holy Spirit continue to teach them, guide them, console, challenge and chastise them.
When old ways threatened to stunt the growth of the community and dilute the impact of the good news of salvation, the Holy Spirit would enlighten, enlarge and broaden their vision. In todays first reading from Acts, Luke offers his readers a sense of the difficulty which some in the early church experienced in surrendering their Mosaic traditions (circumcision, dietary regulations, purification rituals, etc.). By retaining their former ways and by insisting that gentiles embrace them, those early Jewish Christians were, in effect, implying that Jesus death on the cross was not sufficient for the salvation of humankind. Aware of the gravity of the situation, the church convened in Jerusalem and, as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit partnered them in discerning truth. (It is this authors opinion that if all statements made to the faithful were honestly begun with the phrase, It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too. . . v. 28, there would be fewer detours from the gospel).
In the second reading from Revelation, John continues to share his vision of the new heavens and the new earth (see second reading for Fifth Sunday of Easter). Having been guided on its way throughout the centuries, the family of the church, i.e., all the people of God, will one day know the fullness of the divine presence in eternity. All the best of the traditions of the first covenant (represented by the twelve gates) and all the best of the traditions of the new covenant (represented by the twelve foundation stones) will merge to form one universal community, forever illumined by the light of Gods glory and the lamp of the Lamb.
Until such time as Johns vision is realized, the Holy Spirit remains with the church, leading and lighting its path, keeping it faithful to its authentic sacred traditions and, when necessary, helping it to establish new ones.
ACTS 15:1-2, 22-29
William Carey (1761-1834 C.E.), the great British missionary and linguist, was regarded by some of his colleagues as foolish when he gained fluency in several languages so as to better preach the gospel. He was written off as an impractical dreamer when he studied the logs of merchant ships in order to plot a route to the foreign missions. He was rebuffed by the ministerial board of his church when he requested that they allow him to extend their missionary efforts to the unchurched areas of the world. The boards presiding officer summarily dismissed him with the remark, Sit down, young man! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine! (sic). Undaunted, Carey clung to his convictions and eventually preached the good news in India where he also translated the Bible, in whole or in part, into 44 Indian languages and dialects.
Like Carey, many of the early Christians embraced the mandate of Jesus and traveled extensively for the sake of the gospel, among them Paul and Barnabas. Commissioned for their ministry by the community of believers in Syrian Antioch, Paul and company understood that God is indeed pleased to convert the gentiles and that the talk of conversion requires the dedicated and concerted efforts of the entire community. However, like Carey, Paul and Barnabas also faced opposition from others whose vision was less universal in scope. When this opposition, on the part of the Judaizers, (ultra-conservative Jewish Christians, who insisted that certain Mosaic practices were prerequisites for would-be gentile converts) threatened the churchs solidarity and missionary purpose, a church council was convened in Jerusalem.
Collectively and collegially, the community, under the guiding inspiration of the Holy Spirit agreed to a compromise. Rather than impose unnecessary Mosaic traditions on gentile converts, the council members made four requests, viz., that gentile Christians abstain from incestuous unions, from blood and from meat which had been strangled or used in idol worship. Such practices were abhorrent to Jews and to many Jewish Christians. Luke Timothy Johnson (Acts of the Apostles, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville: 1992) is correct in stating that the term necessary (v. 28) does not mean necessary for salvation (as in Acts 15:1, 5), but refers rather to the minimal requirements for maintaining the communion between Jewish and gentile believers.
Having reached an agreement, the council participants then arranged that their decision be communicated to all of their gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. But decisions and communiqués do not automatically transform minds and hearts. Readers familiar with the letters of Paul will recall that the friction between Jewish and gentile Christians did not cease immediately after the Jerusalem council. Nevertheless, a new tradition of inclusivity and mutual respect for one anothers differences and sensibilities had been established. Under the helpful guidance of the Holy Spirit, contemporary Christians are challenged to live by, to preserve and to hand on this same tradition to the next generation of believers.
REVELATION 21:10-14, 22-23
As the third Christian millennium draws nearer, many will resort to Johns apocalyptic visions, seeking fuel to feed the fires of fundamentalist and fraudulent ideas. Some, albeit erroneously, will regard the millennial year as the time when the ancient authors visions of upheaval, chaos and destruction will be realized. Some will even play upon the fears of others to preach a harsh message of punishment and retribution. Perhaps, homilists might avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by the lectionary (texts from Revelation comprise the second reading for the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Sundays of Easter) to offer a more informed and accurate understanding of this special literary genre. Then, the millennium might be more properly appreciated as Gods gift of yet another hope-filled and positive beginning.
Up to this point in Revelation, John, the seer, has spent several chapters (12-20) describing scenes of war, with beasts arising from the earth, each one devouring its predecessor. He detailed seven plagues and the demise of great worldly powers. He spoke of a thousand year reign, of great pools of fire and sulfur and of torment and death. Those who would correlate his apocalyptic visions with contemporary people and/or to current world events or who regard Revelation as a time-table for the unfolding future, do the ancient Christian writer a disservice. John wrote as he did to offer encouragement to persecuted Christians of the first century C.E. Everything he described via symbols, signs, numerology, etc. has already happened except, of course for the second advent of Jesus in glory. Therefore, readers of Revelation should not be moved to fear but rather to deeper faith in the God who has promised that goodness will never be overcome by evil.
In todays excerpted text, John offers his readers the assurance that those who share in the divine victory over evil will know the joy of living in Gods presence for all eternity. His vision of a new Jerusalem should be understood as a description of the church, rooted initially in time and space, but growing and evolving toward an eschatological future. Johns architectural references draw heavily on similar prophetic visions of a restored Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 40:1-5; 48:30-35; 47:1-12; Isaiah 54:11-12; 60:1-4). However, the Christian seer departs from Hebrew tradition in depicting the new Jerusalem of the church as having no temple. Indeed, the need for a temple with its cult, priesthood and sacrifices is no more. As Thierry Maertens Jean Frisque (Guide For the Christian Assembly, Fides Publishing Co., Notre Dame: 1992) have explained, the institutions and traditions of the old covenant have collapsed before the paschal mystery. The new center of cult, the sacred place where God is, is not a temple of stone but the assembly of all the people. The religious act par excellence is not the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but the simultaneous presence of the church before God and in the world.
Superfluous also will be the torches and oil lamps which were so characteristic of the festivals of the first covenant. The radiance that emanates from the presence of God will illuminate each and all. At each eucharistic gathering, Johns vision is realized as believers anticipate the full and perpetual union with God, with one another and with all peoples in the never ending future.
Each human person, at the time of their departure from this world, will leave behind a legacy. For some, the legacy will be a positive contribution to the quality of life in this planet; others, unfortunately will be remembered for a legacy less noble. Popes John XXIII and Paul VI will be remembered for the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu will leave behind the legacy of a South Africa shaken free of the constraints of apartheid. Jonas Salks legacy was a cure for polio. Mother Teresa left the world a legacy of charitable communities, caring for the poorest and neediest among us. The Civil Rights Movement can be regarded as the legacy of Martin Luther King, whereas the horror of the holocaust will always remind the world of Adolf Hitler. When Jesus of Nazareth knew that the time of his departure was drawing near, he prepared his disciples beforehand by assuring them that his would be a living legacy, viz., the dual gifts of the Paraclete and peace.
In the absence of the earthly Jesus, the Holy Spirit would enable Jesus followers to recognize and experience the abiding presence of God and of the risen Christ. The Paraclete would continue Jesus mission of teaching and revealing God to those who listen and believe. As Stanley B. Marrow (The Gospel of John, Paulist Press, New York: 1995) has explained, It is the Paraclete who assures the permanence of the revelation in the world.
In its literary context, this gospel pericope represents part of the Johannine Jesus response to the question of Judas (not the Iscariot): Lord, why is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world? (John 14:22). This question was probably being asked within the Johannine community and has been raised again and again with each successive generation of believers. This question has to do with the fact that some see and believe the revelation of God in Jesus whereas others, through willful blindness, refuse to see and do not believe. Why is it that some see and believe and others do not? . . . Jesus does not seem, at first glance, to address the question, although as Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel According to John, Doubleday, New York: 1970) has pointed out, when properly understood, what he says is truly an answer. The reason why the world cannot see the revelation of God in Jesus is because it refuses to hear the word of Jesus since it does not love him. Those who do not love Jesus are thereby refusing to enter into the love relationship with the world that God initiated in him. In John 3:16, believers are told that God loved the world so much as to give to it Jesus. Jesus incarnation and death on the cross are Gods love-gift to the world just as is the post-resurrectional indwelling of God with the believer through the Holy Spirit. In response to Gods love-gifts, believers are challenged to love and in loving Jesus to keep his word. Lest believers forget or obscure the revealing words of Jesus, the legacy of the Paraclete is given, to instruct and to call to remembrance all that Jesus had taught.
Along with the Spirit, Jesus bequeathed to his disciples a legacy of peace. Not merely the absence of war or the cessation of tension, whatever its source, the peace that Jesus gives pertains to the salvation of humankind. As Raymond E. Brown (op. cit.) has noted, in Johannine language, peace, truth, light, life and joy are figurative terms reflecting different facets of the great gift that Jesus has brought from God to the world. Peace is my gift to you, is another way of saying, I give them eternal life (Jn 10:28).
In handing on to his own the gifts of the Paraclete and peace, Jesus provided believers with the framework within which to establish the new traditions of love and service, peace-making and forgiveness which are to characterize his church until his return.
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