Saturday, April 30, 2011

"The true greatness of any church in not how many it seats but how many it sends"

God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission - I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next... I have a part in a great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons... - Cardinal John Henry Newman

Gospel text (Mc 16,9-15):
When Jesus had risen, early on the first day of the week,
he appeared first to Mary Magdalene,
out of whom he had driven seven demons.
She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping.
When they heard that he was alive
and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
After this he appeared in another form
to two of them walking along on their way to the country.
They returned and told the others;
but they did not believe them either.
But later, as the Eleven were at table, he appeared to them
and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart
because they had not believed those
who saw him after he had been raised.
He said to them, “Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

In today’s Gospel, a risen Jesus gives a rebuke to his companions – the Apostles who had known him best of all. Despite all they had learned from Jesus, they would not believe what they had heard, choosing instead to follow a path of doubt and unbelief for a time. They just didn’t get it. Like a good coach, Jesus gave the men on his team a good chewing out! This was no hand-holding, condescending, affirming speech: he “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.” Essentially, he is telling them to stop feeling sorry for themselves, to be transformed in their thinking, and to get out of the locker room and onto the playing field: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Evidence of transformation and confidence appears in today’s passage from Acts,(Acts 4:13-21) which tells us of the works that the Apostles were doing boldly in the name of their risen Lord. Those works produced consternation among the religious leaders, in part because Peter and John were not part of their elite group and apparently were not that special. They were “uneducated, ordinary men,” but they were recognizable as companions of Jesus.

Ironically, when Jesus himself was ministering before these same leaders, Matthew’s gospel tells us that they asked him for a sign. However, Jesus told them he would not give them a sign other than the sign of Jonah. (Matt. 16). Now the Apostles are there ministering among them and a “remarkable sign” has occurred that left these leaders speechless. The scripture tells us, “they could say nothing in reply.” When there is no more to say, the time for doing comes. Doing generally reveals more than just talking.

When we encounter the Gospel, sometimes we may struggle with unbelief. Like the Apostles, we can experience difficulty in getting our mind around what is real and true. But there is always evidence to confront us. Hope persists, when we think it should be lost, and meaning is found, although some mystery remains. Peace comes to us in the midst of difficulty. Miracles may even happen. We must deal with these phenomena, which we do not always understand or grasp right away.

But for some, it is possible to recognize that the Gospel may be true, but you just can’t deal with the change that may require for you. This is really a more difficult position. The truth sometimes makes us uncomfortable because it may be disruptive. We may simply suppress what we know to be true in order to keep the peace, so to speak. But such peace is elusive and our discomfort remains. Encountering truth is harrowing. We cannot forget it, as much as we would like to try. In this sense, truth is a continuing witness. It can be suppressed, it can even be distorted, but it persists.

For the believer, this persistent nature of truth is a matter of joy. God is truth and we worship a risen Lord who is the way, the truth, and the life. The world may resist the truth, but it can offer nothing in substitution that is worth having. It certainly cannot offer eternal life, or life that is desirable. Thanks be to God who gives us this life so richly. Let us go and behave as companions of Jesus today.

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