5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
During their last supper together, Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him to the authorities. Peter balks, swearing up and down that he would never betray his Master. Jesus says Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” Here's where our gospel scene this evening picks up, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Christ's three-year ministry among God's people is unraveling. The Romans are paying way too much attention to them. The High Priest is definitely looking for a way to crush them. Jesus himself just told them a member of their little family is going to sell him out. And now, Jesus reveals that Peter – the Rock! – is going to deny even knowing Christ. And what's Jesus' advice? “Do not let your hearts be troubled”! If there were ever a time for the disciples to let their hearts be troubled, it's now! They're plucked chickens about to be thrown to the gators. The feeding frenzy of Roman justice and Jewish revenge they're facing is going to be brutal. And all Jesus can say is: “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”
Had I been there with the disciples, listening to Jesus' words with my own ears, I would've been tempted to blurt out: “How is faith alone gonna protect us from our enemies?!” And I imagine Jesus would've said something like, “When did I promise you that having faith in me would keep you safe from the world?” Hearing this, my mind would rewind back over the three years of sermons and lectures, looking for a loophole. Alas! No such promise – I'd have to confess – was ever made. In fact, Jesus promised that believing in him would make us enemies of the world, targets for the Enemy's deviltry. So why then does Jesus attempt to calm his disciples by exhorting them to greater faith if faith isn't going to protect them from the world? Simply put: faith in Christ isn't about protection from hurt, loss, the world, or evil; it's about receiving that which is necessary for growing in holiness. From God Himself we receive the desire and ability to trust Him, the desire and ability to live our lives rooted in the reality of His promises. Faith doesn't make the bad things go away. Faith makes it possible for us to live with the bad things and come out the other side holier for having done so.
So, how does living with the bad things in faith make us holier? First, we have to understand holiness as “being set apart for a purpose.” The BVM is holy b/c is she was set apart to be the Mother of God. An altar is holy b/c it is set apart for the celebration of the Eucharist. A Bible is holy b/c it is set apart as a means of delivering the Word of God. We are made holy at baptism – set apart from the world in order to serve as living, breathing witnesses to the Good News. Next, we have to understand that the things of this world – the powers, the principalities, the temptations, sin and death – are ever-present, all-consuming, and always ready to make us slaves again. We must live among these things to live in the world, but we do not have to be subject to them. Remember: we are set apart. We belong to Christ. Then, lastly, knowing that we belong to Christ, and that we have a mission to bear witness to his Good News, we live among yet set apart from the things of this world. Not above nor beyond. (That's a temptation to pride and arrogance). But among yet set apart. When we live as Christ teaches us to live – with faith, hope, love, mercy – we grow in holiness; we grow more and more Among Yet Set Apart. And this growth settles our troubled hearts.
You see, as priests, prophets, and kings in Christ we have no reason to be troubled. There is – literally – nothing in or on this world that can trouble us b/c we know that our lives belong to him. Of course – we get sick. We die. We suffer. We lose our jobs, our family members. We have strange accidents that sometimes cripple us. All the horrible things that can happen to non-believers can and do happen to us. Faith in Christ is not a magical amulet that prevents these things from happening. Faith in Christ is a fortitude, a bulwark that allows us to see the holy work of God, His plan for us, and to understand our everyday joys and miseries as opportunities to be Christ for others. We turn to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We turn to our Blessed Mother and beg her intercession. We turn to Christ in the Holy Sacrament. We turn to one another in the Church so that the face of Christ might be closer and clearer. We do not entertain despair, revenge, anger, injustice, nor do we hold ourselves above the ordinary mourning of those left behind. When our hearts are troubled – and they will be – we turn to the only source of consolation that can truly bring us life. We turn to Christ.
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