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The 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle C)

In some dioceses the Solemnity of the Feast of the Ascension (a Holy Day of Obligation) is moved to this Sunday.
See the liturgical readings for the Feast of the Ascension for Cycle C.

Readings:
Acts 7:55-60
Psalms 97:1-2, 6, 9
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
John 17:20-26

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 for this Sunday's readings: Living in the Image of Christ gives us Unity.
Living in the image of Christ and celebrating the Sacraments established by Him unites the members of the Church on earth and gives us the hope of our future unity in the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In our First Reading, the soon to be martyred St. Stephen is blessed with a vision of Christ waiting to receive him into the heavenly reality.  It is the hope we all have at the end of this earthly life—the vision of Christ welcoming us into His heavenly Kingdom. 

The Psalm Reading gives us the joy and the confidence to proclaim that God is sovereign over all the earth, and there is nothing this world can do to take away our gift of eternal salvation. The words spoken by Jesus to us in the Second Reading are a promise of His Second Advent.  When Christ returns, He will come in glory as the King of all Creation to render His divine judgment to the wicked and to give His reward to the righteous of His universal family that is the Church. 

St. Stephen's vision of Christ as he was about to be martyred in the First Reading prepares us for the Gospel Reading.  In Jesus' last discourse on the night of the Last Supper, His Apostles heard Him pray to God the Father that He will be reunited with all His faithful disciples when their earthly journey comes to an end.  It is the image of the Living Christ that St. Stephen saw that gives us hope and keeps us together as a family.  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost who inspires us to go on establishing God's kingdom in ourselves and to share the image of Christ with the world.  The visions of the glorified Christ in the First and Second Readings give us the confidence to cry out, "Maranatha"—"O Lord, Come!"

The First Reading Acts 7:55-60 ~ The Martyrdom of St. Stephen
55 But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."  57 But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.  58 They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.  The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.  59 As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."  60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them;" and when he said this, he fell asleep. 

The vision of St. Stephen in his martyrdom gives all believers the hope of heaven.  Stephen was one of the seven men selected by the Jerusalem church and ordained by the Apostles to assist them in serving the community (Acts 6:1-6).  The mission was especially to those poor in the church who were Greek culture widows and depended on the community for their food.  These seven men are recognized as the Church's first ordained deacons.  The Jewish synagogue of Freedmen became hostile to Stephen because he was filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8).  They had him arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the same Jewish law court that condemned Jesus.  As with Jesus, they used false witnesses to accuse him of blasphemy (Acts 6:9-14).  When told to respond to the charges against him, Stephen gave one of the great summaries of salvation history in the Bible and fearlessly proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 7:1-53). 

When Stephen finished his discourse, he was rewarded with a vision of the resurrected Jesus coming in glory; it is a vision that is a fulfillment of Daniel 7:13 and Psalms 110:1.  In Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin He alluded to these same two Old Testament passages when He said:  But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God (Lk 22:69), after which Jesus was condemned to death by the High Priest.  Stephen affirms that same prophecy Jesus made in front of them at His trial (also see Mt 26:64 and Mk 14:62).  The difference is that Stephen sees Jesus "standing" instead of "seated."  Perhaps Jesus is standing because He is coming for Stephen.  Quoting from these same two messianic passages had the same effect on the leaders of the Sanhedrin as it did when Jesus alluded to these passages.  The members of the Sanhedrin were enraged. 

Acts 7:57-58 ~ But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.  58 They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.  The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 
The members of the Sanhedrin covered their ears as a sign that they were scandalized by what they considered Stephen's blasphemy.  But they also fulfilled what God told Isaiah concerning those so filled with corruption that they were incapable of hearing or seeing the message and the acts of God's holy prophets (Is 6:9-10).  Despite the fact that false witnesses were used to accuse Stephen of blasphemy (a crime punishable by death in a death penalty case; see Acts 6:11, 13; Ex 20:16; Dt 19:16-21), and defying Roman law that denied provincial governments the authority to condemn someone to death (see Jn 18:31; only Rome had the power of life and death over the provinces they ruled), the Sanhedrin condemned Stephen to death by stoning.  It was the punishment for blasphemy under the Law of Moses (Num 15:36; Lev 24:14). 

St. Stephen was taken outside of the holy city of Jerusalem to an unclean place outside the city gates (Dt 17:5).  Present at the execution was an officer of the court named Saul.  Saul will soon experience his own vision of the resurrected Christ that will transform this young man into the great evangelist St. Paul, apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-19).

Acts 7:59-60 ~ As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."  60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them"; and when he said this, he fell asleep. 
Stephen entrusts his spirit to his Lord and Savior, and then cries out words of mercy for his murderers, just as Jesus did from the Cross when He said: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).  Then "he fell asleep."  Christians understood that death was not permanent; "falling asleep" was the term that came to be used for the time between physical death and entrance into eternal life and/or the period between physical death and the bodily resurrection of the dead at the Second Advent of Christ (1 Cor 15:6, 18, 51-53; 1 Thes 4:13-15; 2 Pt 3:4).  

Responsorial Psalm 97:1, 2b, 6, 9 ~ God is King over all the Earth
Response: "The Lord is king, the most high over all the earth" or "Alleluia."
(Note: LORD all in capital letters is the substitute word for the Divine Name YHWH [Yahweh]; Lord in lower case is simply the word "lord", in Hebrew Adonai).
 
1 The LORD is king; let the earth rejoice; let the many islands be glad.  2 ...justice and judgment are the foundation of his throne.
Response:
6 The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory.  All gods are prostrate before him.
Response:
9 You, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods.
Response:

The theme of this psalm is the proclamation of the universal kingship of God.  In verse 1 we are invited to rejoice for God is king of the entire earth.  Then the psalmist acknowledges God's sovereignty as a God of justice and judgment (verses 2b) in heaven and on earth, and that all (false) gods are meaningless before Him (verse 6).  In Verse 9 the people are again invited to rejoice because God is greater than all other (false) gods and is the ruler over the earth and everything on the earth.

The second reading Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20 ~ From the Epilogue of the Book of Revelation
[I John heard a voice saying to me] 12 "Behold, I am coming soon.  I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.  13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."  14 Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates ... 16 "I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.  I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star."  17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."  Let the hearer say, "Come."  Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water ... 20 The one who gives this testimony says, "Yes, I am coming soon:  Amen!  Come, Lord Jesus! [Marana tha!].  The first words in brackets are not in the Greek text but are added to provide context. 

In Revelation 22:12-13 Jesus tells St. John: "Behold, I am coming soon.  I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.  13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." 
These words spoken by Jesus are a promise of His Second Advent when He will come in glory to render His divine judgment to the wicked and to give His reward to the righteous.  But it can also refer to Jesus' continual comings in judgment on the lives of every individual in every generation even His own.  This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16:27-28 when He said: For the Son of man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his behavior.  In truth I tell you there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming with his kingdom (underlining added).  As He has done before in establishing covenants with Abraham and with the children of Israel in the Sinai Covenant, God swears an oath Himself as the Lord of history and the sovereign keeper of the Covenant: I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

These three titles are given to Jesus Christ in the Book of Revelation:
Alpha and Omega Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13
First and the Last Revelation 1:8; 1:17; 2:8; 22:13
Beginning and the End Revelation 21:6; 22:13

Also see the Old Testament passages where the same titles refer to God (Is 41:4; 44:6).  The titles now apply to the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Revelation 22:14 ~  Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city through its gates
This is the 7th Beatitude in the Book of Revelation.  The use of the present participle in the Greek emphasizes the ongoing and continual duty of the obedience of faith.  We wash the spiritual robes of our souls clean in the Blood of Christ.  It is His blood that washes away our sins and cleanses us unto righteousness.  The same reference to the blood of Christ is found earlier in Revelation when St. John is questioned by a saintly elder in the heavenly Sanctuary: Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing in white robes, and where did they come from?"  I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows."  He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:13-14).  In Revelation 12:14 to wash in the blood of the Lamb gives privileges to the faithful: 

  1. The promise to feed on the Tree-of-Life (the promise of eternal life).
  2. The promise to enter the gates of the city (access to the eternal Sanctuary).

These promises are found in Revelation 2:7 and 3:13 to those who persevere in faith.  The "city" is the new Jerusalem that came down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2).  It will be the new Temple where God will dwell with the human race for eternity (Rev 21:3).

In Revelation 22:14b ... to enter the city through its gates is reminiscent of the old Jerusalem Temple where there were restrictions on the Gentiles who were forbidden to enter the gates of the inner courts of the Temple under pain of death.  Now, with the revelation of the "Mystery of Christ" (see Eph 3:1-9), Gentiles have access to the covenant, and the blessing promised to Abraham that "all nations will be blessed" is fulfilled (Gen 22:18; also see Gal 3:14; Rev 21:24-26).  This is, however, not a one-time profession of faith, as for example in the Sacrament of Baptism.  The use of the present participial in this passage in Revelation 22:14 and John's teaching in 1 John 2:3-6 indicates that God requires a continuing life of repentance and obedience of faith.  This evidence of faith in action is through acts of mercy and love that insure the entrance of the faithful into of the heavenly city of the New Jerusalem (see Mt 25:31-46 and Rev 21:9).

Revelation 22:16-17 ~ "I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.  I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star."  17 The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."  Let the hearer say, "Come."  Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water ...
The word "you" in verse 16 is plural in the Greek text.  This message is for the entire Church as she is symbolized by the seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev Chapters 2-3).  I am the root and the offspring of David ... other translations read: I am the spring from the root of David (NJB).  Jesus is a direct descendant of the great King David to whom God promised "his dynasty will rule forever" (2 Sam 7:13; 23:5; Mt 1:1).  He is both the source (the root) and the culmination of the Davidic line (see Rev 5:5; Is 11:10, Rom 15:12).

... the bright morning star.  The reference to the "morning star" helps us to understand Jesus' statement to those who prove victorious in the church of Thyatira when He promised them: And to him I will give the morning star (Rev 2:28b).  The Morning Star is both the symbol of power (Num 24:17; Is 14:12) and glorification of the Christ.  It is a gift He shares with Christians, as is the meaning here in verse 16 (also see 2 Pt 1:19). 

Revelation 22:17 ~ The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come."  Let the hearer say, "Come."  Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water...
Notice the wonderful symbolism here: The Holy Spirit and the Church call for Christ to come in salvation and judgment!  We are reminded once again that St. John's entire prophecy in the Book of Revelation is set in the heavenly Sanctuary during the heavenly liturgy as, in response to the Spirit and the Bride, the heavenly assembly calls out "Come."   In response, Christ offers His invitation to come to Him and drink of the salvation for eternity that only He can offer.  It is a precious gift He promised to the Samaritan woman in John 4:13-14 and to the Jewish crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:37-39.  We receive a foretaste of this precious gift of the life of Christ in the Eucharist during our earthly liturgy.  The word translated as "gift" is in Greek word dorean [do-reh-an'], which means "gratuitously, without cost, freely, or free gift."

Salvation is a free gift because Christ paid the cost on the Cross.  We are justified to receive this gift by His grace:  For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.  They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed ... (Rom 3:23-25).

Revelation 22:20 ~ The one who gives this testimony says, "Yes, I am coming soon."  Amen!  Come [Marana tha], Lord Jesus!
The imminence of Christ's coming has been emphasized in this chapter in 22:7, 12 and 20.  The cry "Come" is not Greek; it is Aramaic (the common language of the people in Jesus' time and the language in which Jesus preached).  Literally in the Greek text of Revelation, the word is marana tha, meaning "O Lord, Come!" (rendered "come, Lord" in the NAB).  This passage recalls the cry of the saints and prophets under the altar of God in the heavenly Sanctuary in Revelation 6:9-10; and indeed in the cry of the saints down through salvation history.  It represents our yearning for the Second Advent of Christ.  But it is also a cry for the justice Christ brings as He continually "comes" in judgment throughout history, just as He came in judgment on Old Covenant Israel and held His generation accountable for shedding the blood of God's holy prophets (Mt 23:34-36). 

There is only one other place in the New Testament where this Aramaic phrase is found and that is in 1Corinthians 16:22 where the cry reflects the Church's specific request for the Lord to come in judgment: Marana tha anathema!  We also have evidence from the Didache, the first catechism of the Church written circa 50-120 AD, that this cry was part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the early Church and that the faithful would cry out "Marana tha" during the Consecration of the Host.  Actually, this Aramaic phrase has two translations depending on the division of the letters: maran atha means "the Lord is coming" while marana tha is translated "O, Lord, Come!"  This continues to be the cry of the faithful who await the Second Advent of the Christ!  "Marana tha, Jesus my Savior!  Your servants are waiting!"

The Gospel of John 17:20-26 ~ Jesus' High Priestly Prayer: He prays for the Church; He prays for us!
Jesus prayed to God the Father for His disciples at the Last Supper: 17:1a Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: "Holy Father ... 20  I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.  24 Father, they are your gift to me.  I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me.  26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."

This passage is from Jesus' prayer to the Father at the conclusion of His Last Supper Discourse.  In John 17:20-21 Jesus prays aloud so the disciples can hear Him, "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me."
The Apostles and the disciples, who are consecrated for "the priestly service of the Gospel" (Rom 15:16 and CCC# 611), will witness for Christ both orally and in writing as the Age of the Messiah begins the gathering of the great harvest of souls into heaven (Mt 28:19-20; 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1-3; 1 Thes 2:16; 2 Thes 2:15-17; 2 Tim 2:2; 3:14-15; 1 Pt 1:25).  These men were called to priestly service in much the same way that the Old Covenant hereditary priesthood of Aaron and his descendants were called to serve God (Ex 29:1; 40:12-13, Mt 23:1-2).  However, in the New Covenant the priesthood is no longer only hereditary as it was in the Old Covenant; it is spiritual. 

In the New Covenant, Christ our High Priest and King, calls forth a priesthood of believers (1 Pt 2:9-10; CCC 1141, 1143, 1268, 1273, 1546-47), and from within the greater priesthood He also calls a spiritual priesthood of men in ministerial service to serve His Bride, the New Covenant Church (Mt 19:12; CCC 1142, 1557, 1562-68) as an icon of Christ Himself.  The priestly order of the New Covenant, not based on heredity and service to Israel but on a spiritual call in which worship will be extended to all nations, was promised by Yahweh to the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah: I am coming to gather every nation and every language.  They will come to witness my glory.  I shall give them a sign and send some of their survivors to the nations: to Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coasts and islands that have never heard of me or seen my glory.  They will proclaim my glory to the nations, [...].  And some of them I shall make into priests and Levites, Yahweh says (Is 66:18-21; emphasis added).  Note: The Levites were the lesser order ministers who served the chief priests (Num 3:11-13; 18:1-7; 25:7-13), assisting them in the liturgy and service to the Sanctuary but forbidden to offer the sacrifice.  The Levites roughly equate to deacons in the New Covenant order of ministerial service.

Jesus' high priestly order established in the Apostles and in Himself as the New Covenant High Priest is an order that is superior to the priestly order of the Sinai Covenant that was based on heredity.  Instead, the new priestly order it is like the priesthood of Melchizedek, the priest-king of Genesis 14:18.  Melchizedek was a priest not by virtue of earthly descent through Aaron but who was, like Christ, a priest-king by virtue of God's call, serving an earthly ministry ordained by God as a spiritual priesthood (Heb chapters 7-8).  It is for this New Covenant priesthood and the future generations of believers who will become children in the family of God in the "catholic" (meaning = "universal") Church for whom Jesus prays.

Jesus' petition to the Father for these future children of the New Covenant family in John 17:20-21 is that they may be unified as One: one Church—one Body in Christ, just as He is One with the Father (Rom 8:10; 2 Cor 13:5; Gal 2:20; 4:19).  In this discourse Jesus will use the Greek word for "one" (hen) to express unity with God the Father and the unity of the Church seven times in verses 11, 21 (twice), 22 (twice), 23, and 26 (IBGE vol. IV, page 306).  Jesus also prays for the spiritual perfection of the Church through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

John 17:22-23 ~ And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. 
The Navarre Commentary on the Gospel of John lists three dimensions to Jesus' glorification (see page 206):

  1. God the Father is glorified: Jesus' glorification promotes the glory of God the Father because Jesus, in obedience to God's redemptive decree, makes the Father known and so brings God's saving work to completion.
  2. God the Son is glorified: Jesus' divinity, which is disguised by His humanity, will at last be manifested through His human nature after the Resurrection and will be invested with the full power and authority of God over all creation.
  3. Man will be glorified: Jesus' glorification gives humanity the opportunity to receive God's gift of eternal life, to enter into an intimate relationship with God the Father and God the Son, and this in turn reflects the glorification of the Father and the Son while also inviting humanity's participation in that divine glory.

The final consequence of the giving of His glory to the disciples is that they and all who believe in Him will, through the gift of grace, become partakers of the divine nature in unity with Him and through their transformed lives the world will recognize and be assured of His divine mission from the Father (see 2 Pt 1:4).

John 17:24-26 ~ "Father, they are your gift to me.  I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.  25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me.  26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them."
Jesus' statement that God loved Him "before the foundation of the world" is a declaration of His existence prior to the Incarnation.  In verse 24 Jesus' petition to the Father is for all those who belong to Him, who have been justified by grace and "perfected as One" with Christ on earth, will be allowed to be united with Him in heaven!

Glory and justification by grace are two sides of the same coin, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 8:30 ... it was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory.  The change that grace works in our lives is that living in God's grace conforms us to the image of Christ who is Himself the image and likeness of God the Father.  Sacred Scripture teaches us (emphasis added):

When Jesus communicated His glory to us, He joined us to God the Father by giving us a share in the supernatural life of the Godhead.  This divine life is the source of the holiness of Christians united in Christ's Body, the Church.  This is St. Paul's teaching to the Ephesians: There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all (Eph 4:4-6 NJB).  And it is also St. Peter's teaching in his letter to the universal Church: His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power.  Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire (2 Pt 1:3-4).

As we come to the conclusion of Jesus' powerful priestly prayer, our prayer for each other should be the same as St. Paul's prayer for the Christians of Thessalonica:  To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes 1:11-12).  Amen!

Catechism references for the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter:
Acts 7:56 (CCC 659), 7:60 (CCC 2635)
Revelation 22:16 (CCC 437, 528), 22:17 (CCC 524, 671, 694, 757, 796, 1130, 2550, 2853), 22:20 (CCC 451, 671, 673, 1130, 1403, 2853).
John 17:20-26 17:21-23 (CCC 260, 877), 17:21 (CCC 820), 17:22 (CCC 690), 17:23-26 (CCC 2750), 17:24 (CCC 2749, 2750), 17:25 (CCC 2751), 17:26 (CCC 589, 729, 2750).

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013