Seventh Sunday of Easter (B), May 28, 2006
Readings: Acts 1:17-17; 20-26; Ps. 103; 1 Jn. 4:11-16; Jn.17:11-19
Witnesses to God’s Love in a Sometimes Hostile World
Today’s readings invite us to reflect on what it means to be followers of the risen Jesus and witnesses to God’s love in a sometimes hostile world.
The first reading draws us into the meaning of today’s liturgy. Matthias, not one of the original apostles of Jesus, is chosen to be “a witness to the resurrection.” The inner circle of Jesus’ followers was originally made up of the Twelve Apostles. But this community was broken by the defection and death of Judas. The eleven determine that they need to choose a replacement for Judas. It should be someone who was there from the beginning, who had the powerful experience of Jesus resurrection, and could become a witness with them to that resurrection. With the help of the Holy Spirit symbolized by the drawing of lots, they choose to Matthias to reconstitute the “twelve.”
The reading thus tells us how in its earliest days, the church had to grapple with how to keep the community together, even in the face of the defection and betrayal we see in the life of Judas. How can the movement begun by the earthly Jesus continue? What will keep them together and allow them to survive and even flourish? These are questions for us in the church today too.
The second reading from the letter of John helps us answer this question. John helps us see the meaning of being a witness to the resurrection like Matthias. God the Father loves Jesus—and us—so much that God raised Jesus from the dead. God will raise us from death to live with God forever. God’s love is stronger that death. John tells us not only that God loves, but that God IS love. When we love one another, God lives within us, giving us life. “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.” God living in us is the beginning of the eternal life promised to us by Jesus. The resurrected life that is stronger that death begins now—with the Holy Spirit of love living in our hearts.
Being witnesses to the resurrection like Matthias, therefore, is not just telling people what they can hope for after death. Such hope is surely important, but it is far from the whole story. Being a witness to the resurrection means letting people see in our lives what it looks like when we live in the God who is love. It means making visible what happens when the God who is love lives in us.
Doing that means we need to let God love us and let God live within us. To do that, we need, first of all, to trust that God truly does love us. As John says, we need “to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” When we let the reality of God’s love for us sink deeply into who we are and what we believe, something dramatic happens. We begin to love one another. We become witnesses to God’s love by letting everybody else see what that love looks like when it is alive in a person’s life. By being loved so deeply, we become lovers. We become witnesses to the God whose love brings eternal life—witnesses to the resurrection.
Of course, it would be naive to think that this is a simple process. The first followers of Jesus knew all about the resistance to the extraordinary good news about God’s love Jesus had brought to them. They knew about the betrayal by Judas, about their own abandonment of Jesus, and about Jesus’ death on Calvary. God created the world and everything in it good. But in ways that are hard to understand, there is sometimes abandonment and betrayal of this goodness. There is hostility and resistance in our world to the message of God’s love for us—in civic life, in our personal and family relationships, and in the church itself.
For this reason, John’s gospel tells us that Jesus prayed for his followers. He prays that his Father consecrate them (literally “make them holy”) “in truth.” The truth he refers to is the truth of God’s love. To be consecrated in the truth means being consecrated or made holy in God’s love. It is like being immersed in God’s love like a swimmer immersed in the sea or a surfer riding the waves. God’s love is like the air we breathe—all around us, giving us life, sustaining us. Jesus’ prayer for his disciples and for us is that we keep swimming in this love, keep breathing it in. When we do this, we may experience some of the resistance and hostility Jesus experienced. But Jesus has promised that God’s Spirit will be with us and will never abandon us. This will enable us to be witnesses to God’s love even in a sometimes hostile world. Let’s trust in that love as we come to the table.
David Hollenbach, S.J. St. Ignatius Church May 28, 2006