June 1, 2014 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
Suffering is something that does not have much appeal to anyone. Even Christ at times expressed feelings to His Father in Heaven that He would prefer that the suffering He was bound to experience might be passed or lifted from Him. Yet, we are reminded on this Seventh Sunday of Easter (Easter officially ends next weekend on Pentecost Sunday) that we, too, may endure sacrifice and discomfort, may even be expected to suffer to truly be Christians.
Jesus has told us consistently that when we are troubled, when we “suffer,” we need to pray. This call to prayer is reinforced in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus has just “ascended” into Heaven and among His final instructions to His disciples was the command to them to return to Jerusalem and pray. The reading notes that it was a “Sabbath day’s journey away.” Under Jewish Law people were limited in the distance they could travel on the Sabbath. Thus, a “Sabbath day’s journey” was a short distance only.
We need to understand that all the followers of Jesus were considered “disciples.” That was the term used to describe those who believed and followed. Scholars estimate that it was not just the Apostles and a few others who gathered to pray in Jerusalem, but possibly as many as 100 disciples. There are three key elements of what occurs in this passage, factors important to our own understanding and practice of stewardship: 1. Obedience — they do what Jesus has instructed; 2. Community — they stay together in support of one another; 3. Prayer — group prayer as a matter of fact.
St. Peter, in the second reading, points out that there is good suffering and bad suffering. Although it is subtle, he uses a term which is not normally employed in the Bible. Peter states, “Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed.” As noted previously, the followers of Jesus were called “disciples,” not “Christians” at that time. However, Peter is making it clear that they are also Christians, those who believe in and abide by the teachings of Christ. Additionally, Peter takes care that they know that suffering for their beliefs is good and holy suffering. Enduring hardships and persecution for one’s Christian beliefs is sharing in Christ’s agony for each of us.
Our Gospel reading from John is a prayer from Jesus. People reveal much about themselves in prayer, and this prayer provides us with great insights into the deepest character of Jesus Christ. Observe that Jesus “raised his eyes to Heaven” when He makes this prayer. Often we may think of prayer being done while bowing and kneeling with eyes downcast. Jesus, the Son of God, connects directly with the Father. We are summoned to make that same connection.
One of the key features of this prayer by the Lord is His inclusion of His disciples: “I pray for them.” Jesus prays for each of us continuously; He views us as these same disciples. We are, after all, Christians. Twice within this prayer Jesus asks God to “glorify” Him. However, He makes it clear to us at the end of this Gospel passage that we are charged to glorify Him as well: “I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world.” Stewardship calls us to glorify God and to live that out in this world. By sharing what God has given us and who we are with our parish, the Church, and with the Lord Himself, we take that extra step to which Jesus refers: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you… and they accepted (the Word) and truly understood I came from you.”