7th SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle B)

Readings:
Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20
1 John 4:11-16
John 17:11-19

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Kingdom of the Church Continues as One in Christ
After 2,000 years the universal Church continues as One Body in Christ.  The paradox is that the sinless Bride of Christ that is the Church is full of sinners and yet she persists in faith and unity.  Today's liturgy dwells on the question of how, throughout the centuries, the Church as survived in a world full of sin and yet continues, despite the deficiencies of individual members, in love and righteousness as a holy people who are One with God as was Jesus' prayer for the Church (Gospel Reading).

In the First Reading we discover that the Apostles were determined to keep the central authority of the New Covenant Church intact.  Jesus had appointed the "Twelve" as a sign of the new Israel of the people of God (Gal 6:16), and so Peter sets about to choose a replacement for Judas Iscariot the traitor.  Believing in organized religion means believing in authority (the word "religion" means "to tie, fasten, bind, or to gather up, treat with care").  God ordained a central authority beginning with the old Sinai Covenant and that authority was carried over into the New Covenant in Christ when Jesus established His Twelve Apostles.  He gave the twelve spiritual fathers of the new Israel the power to "bind and loose" sins (Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23), and He gave Peter the power as His Vicar (chief steward of His earthly Kingdom) to lead the flock of God's kingdom and gave him the authority to nourish them with the truth of the word (Mt 16:17-19; Jn 21:15-17).  Notice in the First Reading that it is without question that Peter is in control.

In the Second Reading we discover what keeps the Church unified: it is love of God and neighbor: God abides in us and we remain in God if we abide in love.  In His Ascension, Jesus will be establishing His throne in Heaven, as we sing in today's Psalm.  But the kingdom over which He rules includes His earthly kingdom of the Church in which the priesthood of the faithful in union with Christ continues His mission to bring the Gospel message of salvation to mankind, and His ministerial priesthood continues to minister over His Eucharistic table and the other Sacraments that nourish the Church on the journey to eternity in the heavenly Kingdom.

The First Reading Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26 ~ The Continuation of the Twelve
15 Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers; there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place.  16 He said, "My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.  17 He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.  [...].  20a For it is written in the Book of Psalms: [..] 20c 'May another take his office.'  21 Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection."  23 So they proposed two, Judas [Joseph] called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.  24 Then they prayed, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place."  26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven Apostles.  [Joseph] = literal Greek. 

It is clear that Peter is leading the community and making the decisions.  He was Jesus' designated successor as the leader of the Church:

... there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place.  That the Christian community was composed of 120 people is significant.  Mishnah: Sanhedrin 1.6 records the necessity of a minimum of 120 people to form a legitimate Synagogue.  In other words, according to Jewish custom they were a legal community. 

Acts 1:16  He said, "My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus.
That the Scripture had to be fulfilled is Luke's testimony that divine will is at work in these events.  David was considered to be a prophet and in Luke's Gospel Jesus refers to David's prophecy of the Messiah in Psalms 110:1.  Also see other references to the prophetic character of the Psalms (Lk 20:41-44; 24:44; Acts 1:20; 2:29-30; 13:33; 28:25 and also see Rom 1:2).  The Psalms, like all Scripture is understood to be prophetic and therefore can be ascribed to the Holy Spirit.  The reference Peter makes is probably to Psalms 41:10 in the Greek Septuagint: Even the friend who had my trust, who shared my table, has scorned me (in some translations it is 41:9).

Acts 1:17 ~ He was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.
That Judas was "numbered" or "counted" among the Twelve recalls Luke 22:3 ~ Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve ...
That Judas was allotted a share in this ministry, reminds us of the share of the Twelve tribes of Israel in their inheritance in the Promised Land and the share or portion of the priestly ministers which was God (Num 18:21-26).  The portioning out of the land of Israel to the tribes was determined by lot as was the priestly towns (Num 16:14; 26:55; 33:53) and the assignments for the priests in the daily worship services (Lk 1:9; Mishnah: Tamid, 3:1; 5:2).

The complete quote in Acts 1:20 is:  For it is written in the Book of Psalms: 'Let his encampment [camp] become desolate, and may no one dwell in it.'  And: 'May another take his office.'  These passages are from the Psalms of David but Luke has altered the first quotation to be in the singular instead of in the plural to better fit Judas ("Let his camp" instead of "Make/let their camp").   See the more complete passages below (Acts quote is underlined):

It is only ten days or less until Pentecost.   Peter seems to have an urgent desire to replace Judas before the coming of the Holy Spirit to return the number of Apostles to twelve.  His decision signifies that he understood the symbolic significance of the leadership of the Twelve among the disciples and for the redeemed Israel of the New Covenant Church.  He has understood that the Church is a reconstituted Israel and just as the kingdom of Israel was "fathered" by twelve tribes in the Theophany at Sinai, so should be Church of the newly redeemed Israel have a full apostolic council of Twelve spiritual fathers when God comes again to dwell among His covenant people (see Lk 22:30).

In the significance of numbers in Scripture, twelve is the number of "divine perfection in government."  The significance of the number twelve has been related to the restoration of the new/redeemed Israel from the beginning of Jesus' ministry in His selection of the Twelve Apostles.  Jesus also linked the twelve tribes physically fathered by twelve men to His Apostles and the importance of the number twelve in Luke 9:17 and 22:30.  The symbolic integrity of the group was shattered by Judas defection.  Judas not only sinned against Jesus but also against his apostolic office.  That office must be filled before the coming of the Holy Spirit in order for the Twelve of the new Israel to be present at the birth of the Kingdom of the Church just as the twelve tribes of Israel were present at the birth of the Kingdom of Israel at Sinai.   After the coming of the Holy Spirit, it will no longer be necessary to symbolically maintain the number twelve.  The apostolic office of the Magisterium will grow with the growth of the Church.

Notice that it is Peter who decides the qualifications for the office.  The candidate had to have been a witness to the full extent of Jesus' ministry from the time of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism by St. John the Baptist and continuing to Jesus' resurrection appearance to the Apostles and disciples and His Ascension.  The two candidates who were proposed and accepted by Peter were the disciples Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias.  There were two men in the New Testament named Barsabbas:

  1. Joseph Barsabbas called Justus was a disciple who was a candidate to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:23). According to a tradition mentioned by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in the Holy Land, he once swallowed poison but was miraculously unharmed (Church History, 3.39).
  2. Judas Barsabbas, a disciple and important member of the Jerusalem community who was sent with Barnabas and Paul as a member of the delegation of the Council of Jerusalem to the mixed Jewish and Gentile Christian faith community of Antioch, Syria to deliver the decisions of the council (Acts 15:22-33).

26 Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven Apostles.
Since the Holy Spirit has not yet come to the Church, they used the Old Covenant method of determining God's will through the drawing of lots (see Ex 33:7; Lev 16:8; Num 26:55; 33:54; 1 Sam 14:41; Josh 19:1-14; Mic 2:5; Jonah 1:7-8 and Lk 1:9).  Matthias was selected to replace Judas Iscariot and the number of Apostles was again twelve. 

Casting lots was a way of determining the will of God prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit.  After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, all such decisions will be determined by prayer and discerning the will of the Holy Spirit for the Church locally and universally.  Matthias is not mentioned again in the New Testament.  This was the beginning of the tradition that continued in the authoritative leadership of the Church.  There was the council of "the Twelve" only in the beginning, and the number of the disciples of the Apostles, who were the Church's first bishops, continued to grow as the Church expanded across the face of the earth, to fulfill the mission Jesus gave them as His Ascension (Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).

Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20 ~ The Lord's Throne in Heaven
The response is: "The Lord has set his throne in heaven" or "Alleluia."
1 Bless the LORD; O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name.  2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Response:
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.  12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgression from us.
Response:
19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.  20 Bless the LORD, all you his angels, you mighty in strength, who do his bidding.
Response:

Psalm 103 is attributed to David.  In the previous psalm, David pleaded for help when he was at the point of death (110:11, 24), but now he thanks his Lord for restoring him.  He begins by inviting himself, from the depth of his soul, to bless the Lord (verses 1-2) and in verses 11-12 he testifies to the immensity of his love for God whose kindness is without limits and who forgives His people's sins.  In verses 19-20, David acknowledges God rules over all creation from His throne in heaven and invites the angels and the saints from every generation to bless the Lord God.

The Second Reading 1 John 4:11-16 ~ God Dwells in US
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.  12 No one has ever seen God.  Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.  13 This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.  14 Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.  15 Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God.  16 We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.  God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.

Here is the answer to the question "What it is that has given life to the Church over the centuries?"  It is the love of God and neighbor that has sustained the Church down through the generations of the people of God.  God abides in His Church and His Church in God when Christians abide in love.  The force that binds us in love is God the Holy Spirit whose outpouring upon the Church we will celebrate next week.  It is the mysterious force of the Holy Spirit that fills and indwells every baptized Christian and the whole community of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist.  As we pray in Eucharistic Prayer II: "May all of us who share in the Body and Blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit."

The Gospel of John 17:1, 11-19 ~ Jesus' Prayer for His Church
71:1 Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: [...]  11 "And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one*.  12 When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none [not one] of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  13 But now I am coming to you.  I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.  14 I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.  16 They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  17 Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth.  18 As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.  19 And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth." [..] = literal Greek translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 305. *"one" at the end of verse 11 is not in Greek text.

Verse 11 gives us the sense that Jesus has already begun His walk to Calvary.  Contrast Jesus' statement: I am no longer in the world, with His statement in verse 13: I speak this in the world.  Even though the statements seem to contradict each other, the important key may be that in both verses Jesus says He is coming to the Father.  Some ancient manuscripts add: I am no longer in the world, yet I am in the world, which seems to unite verses 11 and 13 and expresses Jesus in a state of transition to the Father.

"Jesus makes a petition to the Father, saying: "Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.
Knowing the temptations the disciples will face to reject Him in favor of the world, Jesus prays that the disciples will be kept safe from those temptations and the contamination of the world.  He prays that they will persevere, that they will remained true to the Father's commandments, and that their bond to each other will be a unity that is a reflection of the oneness of the Most Holy Trinity (see Jn 10:30).

A significant repetition is found in the word "one."  Jesus will repeat this word 7 times in the literal Greek text in verses 11, 12, 21 (twice), 22 (twice), and 23.  This 7 times repetition stresses the spiritual perfection found in the unity of the Church—the ONE Body of Christ.

1. John 17:11 that they may be one just as we are.
2. John 17:12 I have watched over them and not one was lost ...
3. John 17:21 that all may all be one ...
4. John 17:21 As you are in me, Father, and I in you, that they also may be one in us.
5. John 17:22 And I have given them the glory which you have given me, that they may be one ...
6. John 17:22 as we are one.
7. John 17:23 I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected in one and that the world may know that you sent me and loved me ...

IBGE, volume IV, pages 305-6.

12 When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none [not one] of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  [..] = literal Greek translation.
Jesus guarded and protected His disciples, keeping all of them except the one who was destined to be lost.  The literally translation is "except the son of perishing."  This Semitic expression, in the literal Greek text, is a play on the word "to perish" = not one has perished except the son of perishingThis passage is sometimes translated as "the son of perdition."

 

Jesus is speaking of Judas, the man of Kerioth [Iscariot = literally ish (man) Kerioth (town of his origin)].  Judas' betrayal of Jesus the Messiah was prophesized in such Old Testament passages as Genesis 3:15; Psalms 41:9; 69:25; and Zechariah 11:12-13 (also see Acts 1:16-20 and Mt 27:3-10).    You may recall that during the Last Supper Jesus quoted from Psalms 41:9 (Jn 13:17-18).  The literal Greek passage is: "He who eats bread with me lifts up against me his heel" (New Jerusalem Bible, note "l", page 1775; Interlinear Bible: New Testament, volume IV, page 295).  It is interesting that the "son of perishing" carries the name of Jesus' tribe, the tribe of Judah or Yehuda.  The Hebrew name Yehuda means "Yahweh's people."  Isn't it ironic that it was Yahweh's people who rejected the Messiah, with the exception of a faithful remnant who answered God's call, and within the Apostles there was both a "true Judah" and a "false Judah."  The true Judah who believed in the Messiah was the Apostle Judas, son or brother of James, also called Thaddaeus or Jude to distinguish him from the other Judas (see Mt 10:3; Mk 3:19; Lk 6:16; Acts 1:14), and the false Judah was the Judah/Judas from the Judean town of Kerioth.

In Fr. Raymond Brown's commentary on the Gospel According, he points out that the literal reading of verses 13-16 in the Greek text should be to keep the disciples safe from "the Evil One."  Fr. Brown writes: "The word poneros, "Evil One," is capable of being translated as an abstract noun, "evil"; but on the analogy of 1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, and 18-19, a personal application to the devil is probably intended" (The Gospel According to John, page 761).  The "evil one" is Satan who is the prince of this world.  Jesus will refer to this fallen angel as "the prince/ruler of this world" three times in St. John's Gospel (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and in 1 John 2:13-14, St. John reminds us that the whole world is under the Evil One.  This petition in John 17:13-16 may be a parallel to Jesus' petition in the "The Lord's Prayer" found in Matthew 6:13 when He literally prayed free us from the Evil One, which is more often, but less accurately, rendered "deliver us from evil."

Have you asked yourself if it possible to belong both to the world and to Christ?  This is, of course, the great struggle.  The answer is "No."  In this discourse, Jesus has repeatedly made the distinction between belonging to God or to the world; there can be no compromise between the two.

Notice that John 17:15 refutes the "Rapture theory" of some of our Protestant brothers that Christians will be taken out of the world before the Second Advent of Christ, while the ungodly will be left behind.  God doesn't want Christians out of the world in order to escape persecution and conflict; He wants the ungodly out!  Our mission is to convert the world not to flee from it.  Jesus is praying that Christians should not be taken out of the world.  This is the consistent message of the Bible: that God's covenant people will inherit all things and that the ungodly will be disinherited and driven out (see Prov 2:21-22 and 10:30).

In Hebrew the word for "salvation" is y'shuah (Strong's # 3444; yeshawah; also see Brown-Driver-Biggs Hebrew-English Lexicon)This word comes from the Hebrew root word yasha (#3467), which means "to bring into a large, wide, open space."   Through His gift of salvation in Christ Jesus that is exactly what Yahweh has prepared for man: His covenant people will inherit the entire new earthly creation (Ps 37), which will be restored to them as the New Eden.  This is the last vision St. John has in the Book of Revelation: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.   The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more (Rev 21:1).  It is what Jesus tells St. John in Revelation 21:5 ~ Behold, I make all things new.

In John 17:11-17, Jesus asks the Father to give His disciples four gifts:

  1. Unity: so that they may be one just as we are (verse 11).
  2. Joy: I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely (verse 13).
  3. Preservation: keep them from the evil one (verse 15).
  4. Holiness: Consecrate them in the truth (verse 17).

In John 17:17-19, the Greek word hagiazo [hag-ee-ad'-zo], which means "consecrate, sanctify, or to make holy," and the word aletheia [al-ay'-thi-a], which is the Greek word for "truth," is repeated 3 times in the Greek text. This is another set of double threes.  The word hagiazo indicates spiritual cleansing, but the word aletheia has power, as in John 8:32: truth will set you free (Interlineal Greek-English New Testament)The truth is both the active force of the consecration as well as the sphere into which the believer is placed.  When "consecrated by the Word" one is to be united with Christ, who is Himself the Truth (Jn 14:6, I am the Way and the Truth, and the Life).  It is Jesus' prayer that His disciples of every age, including you, may live in His Truth, to be sanctified (made holy) by the truth of their faith.

Catechism References:
Acts 1:22 (CCC 1287)
Psalm 103 (CCC 304); 103:20 (CCC 329)
1 John 4:11-12 (CCC 735); 4:14 (CCC 457); 4:16 (CCC 221, 733, 1604)
John 17:11 (CCC 2747, 2749, 2750, 2815, 2849); 17:12 (CCC 2750); 17:13 (CCC 2747, 2749); 17:15 (CCC 2750, 2850); 17:17-19 (CCC 2812); 17:17 (CCC 2466); 17:18 (CCC 858); 17:19 (CCC 611, 2747, 2749, 2812)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015