7th Week of Easter, Thursday, May 20
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11 / John 17:20-26
The Lord speaks to Paul; "Keep up your courage!"
One August morning in 1985. a 22-year-old daredevil, named Steve Trotter, plunged 176 feet over Niagara Falls in a barrel. He became the seventh person in history to survive such a feat.When asked how it felt, Trotter said it, was like "being in an elevator with no cable attached. When we think of courage, we usually think in terms of physical courage. An even greater courage is moral courage, the kind Paul talks about in today's reading. An example of moral courage is persevering in some hard task day after day. It's the courage a faithful father and mother exhibit in raising a family through thick and thin. It's this kind of courage that the lord exhorts Paul to have in today's reading.
How do we build up our store of courage when it runs low?
"Faithfulness in little things is a big thing." St. John Chrysostom
Luke evidently compares the trial of Paul with that of Jesus. Both were slapped, for both it was a travesty of justice, yet they behaved so differently. Should Paul have been as mild as Jesus? Should he have quietly submitted instead of using a cunning trick? Both did the same: They did the will of God. For Jesus the will of God had been written in the prophecies: Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter. He opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53.7). His death was different. It an expiation for sins and the restoration of the life of grace, lost in paradise. Paul in his trial followed the advice he gave Timothy. Put up with your share of difficulties, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2.3). God had asked him in his dream to take courage. As a good soldier he wanted to die fighting. To start his defence by addressing them as brothers was clever. Ile made himself their equal. To cause a fight between Sadducees and Pharisees was cunning. Sadducees, such as the high priest, did not believe in life after death. They denied the existence of angels or spirits. One just wonders how they could be priests. Did Paul remember //1(1/ Jesus had said: "Be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves"? (Mt 10:16) He resembled more the serpent than the dove.
“May they all be one… May the love with which you loved me be in them, so that I may be in them.” There is perhaps no stronger witnessing – that the world would believe that Jesus is the one sent – than that those who believe in Christ would also be united in one love by the bond of love which is the Holy Spirit. But, the tragic reality is that, Christians are divided in many denominations and sects. Even in our Church, there are different groups, usually people of good will and full of good intentions. We need ecumenism not only between Churches but also in our Church. Is the love with which the Father has loved Christ not in us?
Christ prayed for all who through the preaching of the disciples believe in him. He prayed for all Christians and for me. He prayed that we may be one. He wants me not only to pray, but to work for the unity of all Christians: "That the world may know that you have sent me". Only in unity and love for one another shall we become trustworthy witnesses. Unity and love alone will give us credibility. The truth of Christ and the love of God will not be accepted from divided Christians. Jesus prayed for me, for each one of us: "Father, I want those you have given me, to be where I am. So that they will always see my glory". He is addressing God as Father twice, to give this prayer a solemnity and an urgency. This prayer can and should change our image of God. We have a high priest who intercedes for us with the Father. We can come with him to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4-16).
There are a few definitions of the concept of unity. Unity can be defined as a whole or totality combining all its parts into one. Or it can be defined as the state or fact of being united or combined into one, as of the parts of a whole. Seen from another angle, it is the absence of diversity and having an unvaried or uniform character. But unity is always tested by diversity and by various other factors. More so when this unity is about people, as each seem to have his own opinion about things and hence keeping unity can be very challenging.
The 1st reading exposed the fragility of the unity of the Sanhedrin, and the crack lines were taken advantage of by Paul when he worked on the sympathies of the Pharisee section of the Sanhedrin. What Paul did to the Sanhedrin which eventually broke their unity, others will also want to do to the Church.
What makes it more alarming is that these "others" may not just be outsiders but from within the ranks of the Church. What Jesus prayed for in the gospel is that we will all be united as one. But the unity is not in some kind of structure or doctrine or practice.
The foundation of this unity is founded on the unity between Jesus and the Father - "Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you." Unless we are united in and by the heart of Jesus, there will be threats to the unity of the Church and the crack lines will appear. Let us pray that we, the Church, will be united as one, and may it begin with a unity of minds and hearts. May Jesus be the foundation of our unity as Church. May He be in us just as He is in the Father.
Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and Father of all people, we believe in you and we know that you loved Jesus with a deep and trusting, lasting love. Let your Holy Spirit pour out this love into the hearts of all those who believe in Jesus, our Savior and Shepherd. Let this love unite us in one common bond of understanding and respect for one another and let that love dispose us to live for one another and to serve one another for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen