Saturday, 17 May 2014

5th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

The gospel of Mark tells us (2:2) that on a certain occasion: so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. So what was the attraction? What was Jesus doing that drove the crowds to seek him out like that? Was he working great wonders and miracles? Why had they gathered in such large numbers? Mark answers: He was preaching the word to them.

Another time, when Jesus was explaining to his disciples the parable of the sower which he had just told (4:14), he says: What the sower is sowing is the word.

And yet another time, when Jesus offered to come to the house of the centurion to heal his servant the centurion replied: Just give the word... (Mt 8:8).

The word, of course, is the word of God. Luke makes this clear when he tells us (5:1) Now he was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God... .

Everywhere he went Jesus, like the sower in the gospel, was casting the word of God among the people. And each, depending on his readiness to receive it, responded in his own way.

It became the hallmark of those who were to be his disciples that they were able to listen to his word, accept it, believe it and above all, obey it. Jesus himself tells us in the gospel of John (8:47): A child of God listens to the words of God; and then just to make sure we have understood he adds: if you refuse to listen, it is because you are not God's children.

And speaking of hallmarks, it is a hallmark of every Catholic that he believes that the word of God is today to be found in his Church; that the Magisterium speaks with the living, authoritative voice of Jesus. Note, for example, what Jesus told his disciples when he sent them out in his name: Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me (Lk 10:16).

Pope Benedict said once that there are some today who say Church – NO; Jesus – YES. He said that in practice this resulted in Church – NO; Jesus – NO.

Well, today’s liturgy of the word enriches our reflection a little more. The first reading tells us that because of this preaching of the word: the number of disciples was increasing. This has always been the case. Those who receive the word with humility and faith become disciples.

The apostles plainly state that: it would not be right ... to neglect the word of God so as to give out food. The importance of the truth which is spoken here cannot, and should never be minimised, in the first place for the ordained but also for the laity.

The role of the apostle, and the priests who serve with them, is to preach the word of God, in season and out of season. Nothing must come between them and this God-given mission and so the apostles ordained seven deacons. This would allow them to continue to devote themselves to prayer: and to the service of the word.

The preaching of the word is a service of the word. Jesus himself acknowledges as much when he says: My word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me (Jn 14:24).  And Jesus stood ready to sacrifice his life preaching the word of the one who sent him.

A servant is never greater than his master and the word is always greater than the one who preaches it. Indeed, the history of our present times shows that the service of the world can require even the surrender of our lives. Countless are those who have willingly accepted death in the service of the word. Not only have these martyrs refused to reject the word, they have refused even to change any part of it. What a powerful example, what a powerful rebuke, to those who graft their opinions onto the vine of truth and pass them off as Church teaching!

Whether spoken by Christ or by those he has commissioned in his Church to speak in his name with his authority, the word preached is ultimately the word of the Father. Each man or woman who hears the word is judged by it according to how they respond. For this reason Jesus can say: He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already: the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day (Jn 12:48).

In not many days time we will hear proclaimed the words: As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31).

And so we hear a little later: The word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside (Acts 13:49). Thanks to the preaching of modern day apostles and disciples it has even found us, and we rejoice as we listen to James who exhorts us (Jms 1:21): Accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls.

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