Jesus offers a message of hope and a new commandment
By: By Tim Irwin
Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28
Acts of the Apostles 14:21-27; Psalm 145:8-9,10-11,12-13; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a,34-35
The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter weave together the past, present and future, connecting hardship of this life with the hope of risen life.
The reading from Acts of the Apostles details the missionary activity of Paul and Barnabas. According to the text, they made many disciples wherever they preached. The conversions did not occur because they offered an end to the drudgery and suffering common to life then and now. “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.'” Paul and Barnabas didn’t offer relief; they offered meaning.
The second reading proclaims the prize for those who preserve in the faith. “Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The seeds of this powerful message found fertile ground in the hearts and minds of people who sought meaning that they had not found in the dominant religions of their day.
“Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” The promise of a New Jerusalem gave people hope in a way that they had not experienced.
Hardship and hope endure as a focal point in the life of a disciple today. Some of the trials of life have eased since biblical times due to human ingenuity. Indoor plumbing comes to mind. Despite the advances of human enterprise, the fundamental experience of loss never stays away for long. The glitz and glamour of contemporary culture may offer a more engaging distraction than the people of biblical times experienced, but in the end it is just a distraction and not a solution.
The Gospel reading explains where we will find the solution to hardship and a place worthy of hope. Judas Iscariot has just departed to arrange Jesus’ arrest. The hardship of passion and death of Jesus will begin shortly.
NO DESPAIR HERE
Yet the message of Jesus is not one of despair, but of hope: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Despite the number of converts that Paul and Barnabas won, the culture into which they took the message of Christ hated what they had to say. They would pay for saying it with their lives. It seems as if contemporary culture can more than match the cynicism of biblical times. So, who will strengthen our spirits as Paul and Barnabas did the disciples of old?
Jesus answers that question in the Gospel. We will strengthen each others’ spirits. We will love one another in Christ through the liturgy that we share and in the daily care we offer one another. In so doing, the world will know that we are His disciples and we will become the message of hope for the New Jerusalem in a world ever more desperate for it.
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark’s Parish in Peoria.