by Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
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First reading Acts 14: 21-27
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 145
Second reading Revelation 21: 1-5a
Gospel John 13:31-33a, 34-35
This Sunday we are encouraged to remain in the faith by following the commandment of love so that we may receive the glory promised to us and thus be admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The first reading recalls the successful missionary activity among the Gentiles. With success temptations also abound as both Paul and Barnabas are treated as gods by the people of Lycaonia and Paul enduring stoning by the Jews. From both Paul and Barnabas we learn, as the saying goes, that “when God begins blessing you, watch your ego”. In other words remain humble and give praise to God.
The stoning of Paul by the Jews does not discourage them from remaining in the faith. On the contrary they remain determined to spread the faith as they engage in a successful tour of a number of cities. They strengthen the souls of the disciples and encourage them to remain faithful in the faith. Elders are appointed for each Church community in order to assist the faithful to remain in the faith. Even today every Christian community is placed with an elder, normally called a priest. The elder’s task is to encourage the believers to remain, amidst challenges, in the faith.
The responsorial psalm repeats the well-known qualities of God: compassionate, full of mercy and patient. Remaining faithful in the faith requires that we see God in this way. It is important to recall these qualities of God when one feels estranged from the faith.
The second reading speaks of new things. Among these new things are a new heaven and a new earth. There is also the strange appearance of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. In this way the text brings in the image of a wedding ceremony.
The image of a wedding ceremony or feast is frequently used in Sacred Scripture to indicate a situation of love and joy. The narrative on the joy of Adam in the garden of Eden when he sees Eve reflects a marriage ceremony. As a good and faithful Jew Jesus also manifests some fascination with this image. This can be seen in his preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven when he likens it to a wedding feast (Cf. Mt. 22: 2) and the story of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13). As such, Sacred Scripture, as seen in the story of Adam and Eve, begins with the image of the wedding feast and concludes with it in the book of Revelation.
Speaking of marriage brings us to matters of joy, love, permanence and fidelity between two people. The promise of God is clear as God will dwell with the people forever thus presenting us with a God who is always loving and present. The greatest fear of human beings, death, will be defeated. The important thing once again is to remain faithful as God is faithful right up to the end.
The Gospel tells of events after the departure of Judas Iscariot at the last supper. Judas fails to remain with Jesus right up to the end. We need not be too critical though of Judas as Peter and indeed all the disciples also failed to remain with Jesus right up to the end. We too, as Christians today, are probably guilty of having abandoned the faith at some point in our lives. The only exceptions, if we are to follow the Gospel of John, are Mary, the Mother of Jesus together with the beloved disciple and the other women who remain faithful to Jesus right up to the point of his death on the cross.
Jesus encourages those who have faith in him to love one another as he has loved them. This is the way we can remain true and authentic Christians. On occasion some people suggest many different forms of remaining in the faith especially as Christians fight among themselves about which Church is doing things the right way. The yardstick for all this is love. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 has a great hymn on love. “Love never comes to an end…As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love. The true mark of a disciple is love.
Let us pray that each one of us may remain faithful to the faith received at baptism. At the same time let us recall that the yardstick for remaining in the faith is to love one another as Jesus loves us.