Reflections on the readings for Sunday 22 May 2011
Acts 6:1-7; Psalm33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” If I have thoughts of heaven and eternal salvation in mind when I read this Gospel passage I can smile patronizingly at the silliness of the disciples’ questions. But that probably shows up my own obtuseness, not theirs. In times when the foundations are being shaken, when the tried and trusted ways of doing things are proving inadequate, when the future starts to look like a very foreign country, I can identify with Thomas’ perplexity. Up to this point, being a disciple of Jesus hadn’t been easy, but at least they had some idea of how to do it. Now Jesus was talking of leaving them, but still expecting them to follow. How do we follow Jesus when we don’t know in which direction he’s headed? How do we follow Jesus today if we’re confused about what exactly God is doing? Jesus is adamant that the disciples will have all they need, that though him they have been connected with God and that this will give them the power to do even greater things than he had done. When I hear those reassurances within my own context, I can relate to the disciples’ fear and doubt. Trust is easier spoken about than lived. How were they supposed to actually know what to do when Jesus was no longer around to ask?
The story about providing for the widows in the book of Acts gives us a very practical example of the believers working out how to follow Jesus in a new context. There is a real problem – some people in the community are being discriminated against. This is not a trivial matter, it has to do with justice and compassion as it works out within the community of God’s people. What strikes me about the solution they come up with – the appointing of deacons – is that at its heart is the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to work fully in their midst. The apostles recognize their own God-given gift and calling, but they also acknowledge that the Spirit gifts and enables others and they create the spaces and structures to give that full expression.
The frightened little community that Jesus left behind quickly found their feet because Jesus did not leave them orphaned but sent the Holy Spirit. The beautiful description of God’s people which Peter borrows from the Old Testament book of Exodus – a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God – is applicable to all God’s people, not just to a few professionals. The invitation is to come to Jesus and allow ourselves to be built, as living stones, into a spiritual house. God doesn’t just provide accommodation for us in the Church; God builds us up into a community which is the Church.
Jesus said: “The one who has seen me has seen the Father.” We may not know in advance where following Jesus will take us, but we can know the God in whom we trust. It is the God revealed in the life of Jesus who, in the words of the psalm, loves justice and right, fills the earth with kindness and compassion, and can be trusted to deliver us and to preserve us in time of famine. If we look carefully we will discern the signs of where God is at work. The Spirit will show us which way to go. But remember, God’s house is spacious – we can’t insist on staying forever in the rooms to which we’ve become accustomed.