7th Week of Easter, Friday, May 21
Acts 25:3-21 / John 21:15-19
Paul goes before King Agrippa; Paul claimed Jesus is alive.
Some years ago there was a best-seller entitled I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.Today's reading reminds us that Jesus said the same thing to his disciples. Recall Matthew 10:16, 18-20. "Listen! I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves… You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings, to tell the Good News… Do not worry about what you are going to say, when the time comes, you will be given what you will say. For the words you will speak will not be yours; they will come from the Spirit." In today’s reading, Paul experiences both promises of Jesus.
Recall a time when we suffered for the sake of the Good News. How did we experience God’s help at that timc? "Afflictions arc but the shadows of God's wings." George McDonald
Many today refuse to accept the shepherd image which God attributes to himself (for example, Ez 24), which Christ claims for himself and which he gave to the apostles. Are the faithful no more than a docile sheep? Are the pope, bishops and priests who “dominate in the name of truth, repress in the name of morality, and keep ‘the flock’ infantile in the name of God’s goodness?” (Bernard Feuillet, Journal de la Vie 78, p. 25) Not if they understand their mission of service and self-giving. Not if they are shepherds in Christ’s way. Not if they are agents and centers of unity for their people.
God has this very peculiar practice of raising up the lowly, besides of course, casting down the mighty from their thrones. In simple terms, God often turns a nobody into somebody. The few examples that will come to mind are people like Abraham and Moses, and other lesser known people like Gideon from the book of Judges and even the apostles whom Jesus called but we have very little information about their background.
Even St. Paul wasn't really a big-time somebody. Initially, he made a name for himself by being a persecutor of Christians. But there is nothing great about spilling other people's blood just to get some recognition. But after his conversion, he began preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ and that's when God turned a persecutor into a preacher.
But it would not have probably crossed the mind of St. Paul that his name would be mentioned on the lips of Festus and king Agrippa, and he even would be referred to Caesar. That was really from being a nobody to being a somebody, but that is truly the work of God who has plans for those who are lowly or even sinners.
If that was the case with St. Paul, then the similar thing could be said of St. Peter. St. Peter was just a fisherman until Jesus called him. Then he tried to be a somebody in the company of Jesus. He even boasted at the Last Supper that he would never desert Jesus. But of course, we know what happened. But in the gospel, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, and three times Peter replied in the affirmative. Anybody can say anything and don't mean what they say, but it takes somebody to mean what they say and say what they mean. Peter knew that this time round, he had to mean what he says and say what he means. He was ready to make up for his disgrace and to be lifted up by God's grace. But that meant that he had to be prepared for one thing. As Jesus told him: You will have to stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.
So, it means going back to that lowly state where he will be ordered and pushed around by others. So it is back to being a nobody. But that's when God's grace can work and lift up him up to greatness.
That's when he will have to mean what he says when he said that he loves Jesus. Jesus said that He is gentle and humble of heart. That is the only time when Jesus described His own heart. As we come to the Mass to honour the Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us ask Jesus to make our hearts like His, as we tell Him that we love Him. And that means that we too must be lowly and humble of heart. Only then can God raise us up with His love.
Lord, our God, you have appointed shepherds in your Church to speak your word to us and to build community in your name. We pray to you today: May they be shepherds like your Son who look for those who have lost the way, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. May they all be ministers of your tender love and service, as Jesus was, your Son and our Lord. Amen