Easter 5A May 18, 2014
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ Whenever I hear such words, I see it as an indication that there is trouble ahead. When the angel Gabriel said, ‘Fear not Mary’ there was good reason for Mary to wonder ‘what manner of salutation is this?’. Troubled by such words two of the disciples, Thomas and Philip raised questions in the Gospel for this week, which in turn troubled the Lord. When Jesus said, ‘And you know the way to the place where I am going,’ Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Likewise, when Jesus said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father.’
In this conversation, it is clear that Jesus was trying to communicate something important to the disciples and they had no clue what the Lord was saying. So, Jesus said to them, ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.’ It seems, the Lord was appealing initially to their deeper knowledge and understanding of him and his Father and when he realised that they did not have such depth, he appealed to their senses and asked them to believe him because of his works.
In human relationships, when there is mutuality and maturity, through deeper knowledge and understanding between two people, the need for works and words become almost unnecessary. The need for tokens of love in exchange of gifts and words become less significant when there is deeper trust and love. Jesus may have expected such love and trust from the disciples and when he did not find it in them, he offered help and made a promise. He asked them to pray for such maturity in love towards him and his Father which would reflect in their love for one another. So, the conversation ends with Jesus making a promise, ‘If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’
Our resident New Testament scholar informed us this morning at our reading of the Gospel in Greek, between the 9am and 11am services that the words of the promise ‘If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’ is absent in most reliable New Testament manuscripts. The possible reason for omission could be because it has grammatical and theological irregularities. Firstly, why would Jesus ask his disciples to ask him in his name. Could then not simply ask? Secondly, if there is need for a mediator, then Jesus should have said, if you ask the Father in my name, he will do it. Instead we have those words put in the mouth of our Lord which makes little sense.
Well, unless, it is interpreted in legal terms. It is likely that Jesus was making a promise and signs it with his name. And when the disciples make an appeal, they should show Jesus his signature and demand what he had promised. This interpretation may be farfetched but what was said at the Last Supper and how it was sealed with his very blood on the cross seem to concur with the legal interpretation of the words of Jesus. Because the Lord took the Cup at the Last Supper, blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘this is my blood of the new covenant’ and this was sealed with real blood on the cross.
With all this legal and theological interpretations of the absent obscure promise of the Lord we are still left to wonder about the meaning and significance of it all. And here we are given the other lectionary reading for this Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles. The narrative takes us directly to the scene where Stephen, one of the seven deacons of the early church addressing the crowd at the Synagogue. The crowd is pressed to stop him because of the power and authority with which he preached. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Trying to step into his shoes for a moment, the experience of the impact of stones on the head, face, chest, arms and legs bones feels extremely painful and soul rending. Faced with such pain and agony, it would be natural to cry, ‘my Lord, my Lord, why have you forsaken me?’ Instead, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he said this, he died. And there was a young man who witnessed this and his name was Saul.
Faced with trouble, the words of our Lord, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled’ seem to take a new meaning. So, Stephen, instead of being troubled, he appealed to the Lord who said, ‘If in my name, you ask me for anything, I will do it.’ Now, let us hear the words of Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ This direct appeal to Jesus in his name must have troubled the young man Saul deeply. His years of learning and practice of the Law of Moses must have suddenly vaporised into oblivion. This would be the beginning of a New Life of transformation. One Stephen dies and One Saul is transformed to Paul.
St Peter claimed in his epistle which is the third lesson from our lectionary readings for this week says, ‘You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation … ‘ made of the living stones. The foundation for this glorious and living temple shaped essentially by the labours of St Paul has the love and forgiveness of St Stephen who asked Jesus in his name.
The foundations on which we are built into a living temple are the love and forgiveness of the cross Christ which is revealed time and again in the lives of the saints. It is the love of God that gives and gives generously, pouring out himself. There is no law and prophets to supplant this amazing love. Our hearts shall never be troubled when we have our promise ratified in the blood of Christ.