by Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
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First reading: Acts 7:55-60
Responsorial: Psalm Psalm 97
Second reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
Gospel: John 17:20-26
This Sunday, which hangs between Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday, forces us to focus on heaven as we look towards God who judges with justice.
In Southern Africa these days are normally dedicated to praying for the unity of Christians.
Also, on this Sunday, the Universal Church keeps the World Day of Prayer for Social Communications.
The first reading narrates the martyrdom of the first martyr, St. Stephen, after having provided a lengthy defence before the Sanhedrin. He had been falsely accused of speaking blasphemously against Moses and against God. As such we observe a perversion of justice. We find comfort though in the fact that his defence is supported from heaven as his face shines like an angel. He does not lose this angelic look as, filled with the Holy Spirit, and having seen the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, prays for his own persecutors. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. St. Stephen thus ends his life like Jesus his Master who prayed that God may forgive those who tortured and subsequently crucified him. In this way he fulfilled the command of Jesus to pray for those who persecute you (Cf. Mt 5:43-45). What type of face do we show our persecutors? Do we accuse others falsely? When faced with difficulties do we look towards heaven or towards fortune tellers and the likes?
The responsorial psalm speaks of God as a king sitting upon his throne. This image evokes issues of justice. In fact we are told that justice and judgement are the foundation of his throne and the heavens proclaim his justice. God judges with justice unlike the gods who judge with injustice.
The second reading also picks up on issues of justice as we have reached the end times. Jesus presents himself, through the angel, using the Greek letters of Alpha and Omega, thus presenting himself as the beginning and the end. His final assignment is to reward the just and condemn the wicked. Who are the just? Firstly, it is those who have washed their robes. This, no doubt, is an allusion to those who have been baptised. Secondly, it is those who have the right to the tree of life. What is this tree of life? It is the cross of Christ. Whilst the tree in the Garden of Eden brought about the death of Adam and Eve now that we are at the end of time it is only the tree (the cross) where Christ was crucified that gives eternal life. Who are the unjust who remain outside the heavenly city? John lists them as the dogs, fortune tellers, the sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters and every person of false speech and false life.
The gospel presents Jesus’ last speech in the upper room as he makes his prayer to the Father. In Christian tradition this has been called the priestly prayer of Jesus. This is because he offers prayers on behalf of others as a priest would normally do. He prays not only for those who are with him in the upper room but also for those who will come to believe in his name which is ourselves today. The main prayer of Jesus is that we may be one.
Unfortunately the Christian religion is known for its scandalous disunity as we witness thousands of denominations springing up every day. The scandal of disunity, evil as it is, has been seen by so many to be normal which is a scandal in itself. This is against Jesus’ wishes. Africans normally respect the words of a relative who is about to die. Why don’t we respect the words that Jesus spoke just before he died? As we prepare for the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit let us pray that our hearts may be softened so that we may be ready to work for the unity of all Christians. However, we need to look towards heaven in order to effectively work for this unity.