Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A. John 14:1-12 Fr. Gregory Murphy
Christians always were an argumentative bunch. It may be of some comfort in our present discontents to realise that this has always been the case. Right at the beginning, as our reading from Acts shows, there was dissension and division in the Christian community. And this was because of failure. The Hellenists – Greek speakers, therefore most likely pagan converts – complained, justly, that their vulnerable, their widows, were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food by the church. And the church leaders’ response too has a (regrettably) familiar ring: they were too busy to deal with this, being preoccupied with more important matters. But unlike many later responses they did not stop with the brush-off. Rather, they called a meeting of the whole community of believers and inspired by the Holy Spirit created a new form of ministry to resolve the problem. Out of institutional failure new opportunities for fruitful service arose.
Precisely this pattern is seen in pope Francis’ dealing with the crisis of Evangelisation in the Amazonian region. Rather than stay with what is not working (parachute in more ordained ministers, never enough); or alternately risk schism in the church by following the calls to ordain women ministers, which also would be insufficient in the long-term, he has in fact called for the development of new ministries, led by the laity, especially the women, who in practical terms there (and here) are already largely both forming the new generations of Christians by inculturation in the home and increasingly also taking responsibility for nourishing and guiding the larger Christian communities. The pope, it seems to me, is recognising the reality on the ground both in the Amazon and in the current religious wasteland of Europe and is encouraging us to find new ways of being the church, of realising our identity as living members in Christ’s body in a manner complementary to, collaborating with but not limited by the decreasing availability of ordained ministers. Maybe the ordained might be increasingly called to a more wandering ministry, travelling and facilitating several Christian communities based in different parishes? Is that so very different from our present situation? With God’s capacity, always, to bring good out of evil might we be able to use this present time of forced estrangement from our usual communities and religious practice to consider how we might do things differently?
We sometimes talk of our life’s trajectory, our personal histories, as being a journey. But journeys need a route, a plan, a destination. Jesus himself in today’s gospel tells us that he is both the route and the destination: he is the way, and he is in complete communion with the Father, that perfect communion of life and love in which we are empowered to share through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus’ complete failure in human terms – the crucifixion – makes another good possible, that he acts in the gift of his Spirit so that his followers will become true disciples, who not only serve but also imitate their teacher. Death does not mark the end of his work, his showing the Father’s love and mercy, but its extension in the lives of his disciples. This is what the our becoming living stones is about. If we love Jesus we will keep his commandments, and will rest (abide) in him and he and the Father, through the Spirit, in us. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this in his ‘Kingfisher sonnet’:
“…For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
To journey is to change, to learn to see things through a new perspective, even if we do not travel, even if as now we must stay home. But if we journey Jesus’ way, into the communion he shares with the Father, we will find our lives and purpose renewed, and will learn to cast off the fears that haunt us and hold us back. Jesus after his death returns to us in the living Spirit so we may find a resting-place in God, respite from the cares which plague us, and from that still place act to show God’s love and mercy to our world.