2004—Seventh Sunday of Easter—C
Do you suppose that Stephen cared much who was collecting coats when he was murdered? Or when he later found out that the story of his death in the Acts of the Apostles would also provide the introduction to the now-famous St. Paul? We know the full story—now. But Stephen could not have known, and perhaps could not have cared less. Stephen, like all of us, is caught in only a single moment of time. He could not have known that the coat-check man at his murder was soon to become famous. Single moments of time have a way of doing that; they often hide as much as they reveal.
But every human being is caught in the present—even our brother Jesus; he is human, just like us in all things save sin. And there is a sobering revelation in his story from today's gospel too. The next time you're tempted to despair when you think your prayers are not being answered, think of Jesus in today's gospel. He faces the same fate—because of time.
This section of John's gospel is known as the "High Priestly Prayer." It is, arguably, Jesus' most blunt and poignant petition to his Father. Some might say it's all he really ever asked for himself: that his followers might be one, a single communion, a loving community. That they (we) might become open and unafraid of differences; that they might not just tolerate a rich tapestry of diversity, but embrace fearlessly the entire spectrum of the rainbow. In short that they might be an honest reflection of reality: all are God's children. Jesus prays so earnestly, so solemnly, and all we have 2000 years later is this: this fractured Church, this tormented world! And you think your prayers don't get answered!
Just like Stephen, his first martyr, his first witness, Jesus has to wait in time like us all. Clearly his prayer has not yet been answered. And it is now our challenge as his living body to make it true. But only time will tell! I am reminded of one of the wise sayings attributed to the great Athenian statesman and general, Pericles: "Wait for that wisest of all counselors, Time." Because you never really know, do you?
Let this day's liturgy be a reminder that prayer does not solve all problems. It has not done so for centuries. Prayer alone will not make us a more accepting and open church; prayer alone will not reconfigure an Archdiocese; prayer alone will not stop the destruction and inhumanity of war. It never has; it probably never will!
So why bother? If prayer does not change God's mind, change God's plans, change God's reign, what's the point? Søren Kierkegaard said it best: "Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays."
It is imperative that we pray in order to change ourselves. God's eyes and limbs are now ours. And countless people, like Stephen, continue to be murdered—literally and figuratively—while too many of us collect coats and hats at the door.
Time has not yet disclosed which of us might be the next St. Paul. But our church and our world still wait, in time—for us. Pray hard for unity and peace. And then, like the good Nike commercial, just do it! Everything finally does now depend on us—even the outcome of Jesus' own prayer.
So, let our final prayer be like that at the end of the Book of Revelation. For what else could we possibly want? Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Be with us—in us—again. Today and Always, in this time and in all time. Amen!