5th Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Acts 6:1-7
A new section of the Acts of the Apostles begins with our reading for
today. We are introduced to two groups in the early community,
identified by their background prior to conversion – the
Hellenists, and the Hebrews. From this chapter onward, Christians are
referred to as “disciples”; this term is no longer applied
only to the apostles and to those who were adherents to Jesus during
His life on earth – all the baptized are now disciples. Jesus is
the Lord of His Church and the Teacher of all: after His ascension into
heaven He teaches, sanctifies and governs Christians through the
ministry of the apostles initially, and after the apostles’
death, through the ministry of their successors, the Pope and the
Bishops, who are aided by priests.
Hellenists were Jews who had been born and lived for a time outside
Palestine. They spoke Greek and had synagogues of their own where the
Greek translation of Scripture (the Septuagint) was used. The Hebrews
were Jews born in Palestine; they spoke Aramaic and used the Hebrew
Bible in their synagogues. This difference of backgrounds naturally
carried over into the Christian community during its early years.
This chapter relates the establishment by the apostles of “the
seven”: this is the second identifiable group of disciples
entrusted with a ministry in the Church, the first being “the
twelve”. It is clear that the seven have been given a public role
in the community, a role which extends beyond distribution of relief;
Philip and Stephen preach and baptize as well.
Saint Luke uses the term diakonia but he doesn’t call the seven
“deacons” (diakonoi). Nor do later ancient writers imply
that these seven were deacons in the sense of the word today,
constituting with priests and bishops the hierarchy of the Church. It
is possible that the ministry described in the Acts of the Apostles for
these diakonia played a part in the instituting of the diaconate
1:1 [A]s the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists
complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being
neglected in the daily distribution.
This most likely refers to the day-to-day survival effort by the
unworldly, enthusiastic Christian community rather than to any
assistance program to the Jewish society at large. You can easily
imagine why widowed immigrants faced special economic hardships and why
they might be “overlooked” in a food distribution run by
the native contingent.
2 So the Twelve called together the community of the
disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word
of God to serve at table.
Could possibly mean to keep accounts in the dole to the poor.
3 Brothers, select from among you seven reputable
men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this
This seems to conform to the Old Testament model (Deuteronomy 1:13; Exodus 18:21) where Moses chose helpers.
4 whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
In contrast to “serving at table”. Nevertheless, we later
find both Stephen and Philip engaged in this “apostolic”
activity of preaching and baptizing.
5 The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit,
also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of
Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
The seven names are all Greek.
6 They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
The Jewish ritual which expresses both transfer of function and
bestowal of powers (see Numbers 27:18-23). This is also an
ecclesiastical practice of Luke’s own time (1 Timothy 4:14; 5:22;
2 Timothy 1:6). This graphically expresses the subordination of this
originally independent Hellenistic leadership to Jesus’ chosen
7 The word of God continued to spread, and the number
of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of
priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
This minor summary of Luke’s marks the further progress of the
Word of God. Members of many Jewish priestly families were obedient to
the faith. A difference is to be noted between the role of the
converted priests in the Christian Church and the clearly defined roles
of priests and Levites.
2nd Reading - 1 Peter 2:4-9
The newly baptized are like babies recently born to a new life of
grace. Just as little children clamor for their food, Christians should
long for the spiritual nourishment that lies in the Word of God and the
sacraments. Baptism makes us members of the Church. Saint Peter uses
the idea of constructing a building to explain that Christians together
go to make up the one, true people of God.
4 Come to him,
Join fully in the community of the New Israel by joining yourself to Christ.
a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
The words of Psalm 118:22 (revised with inclusive language) are applied
to the Risen Christ, who was rejected but whose precious quality in
God’s sight is found in the new life He shares with those who
come to Him.
5 and, like living stones,
In contrast to the inanimate blocks used in pagan temples those who are
“alive in Christ” are living stones. By sharing the life of
the Risen Lord, Christians become with Him a household formed by the
“This is how Peter describes the way in which those who have been
accepted by God are integrated into the Church. It is by sharing a
common origin, and by being in harmony with one another, by thinking
and saying the same things, by having the same mind and the same
thoughts, that we are built into one house for the Lord.”
[Theodoret of Cyr (ca. A.D. 430), Catena]
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood
to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Christians, viewed corporately as a body of priests, present their
lives of faith and love as a sacrifice to God (see Romans 12:1;
Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18).
“The temple which Christ built is the universal (catholic in
Greek) Church, which He gathers into the one structure of His faith and
love from all the believers throughout the world, as it were from
living stones.” [Saint Bede the Venerable (ca. A.D. 416),
Homilies on the Gospels, 2,24]
6 For it says in scripture: “Behold, I am
laying a stone in Zion, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and whoever
believes in it shall not be put to shame.”
An adapted form of the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from 200 B.C.) Isaiah 28:16.
7 Therefore, its value
“Value” reflects “precious” in the previous verse.
is for you who have faith, but for those without faith: “The
stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
Quotes Psalm 118:22
8 and “A stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall.”
Quotes Isaiah 8:14
They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.
The unbelievers are destined by God to “stumble”. In the context used here, these are the pagan persecutors.
9 But you are “a chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may
announce the praises”
The first three titles (chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation)
are titles promised to Israel prior to the sin of the golden calf
(Exodus 19:6). The final title (a people of his own) is a combination
of Isaiah 43:21 and Malachi 3:17. Christians have become God’s
possession by the shedding of the precious blood of Christ.
“All who have been born again in Christ are made kings by the
sign of the cross and consecrated priests by the anointing of the Holy
Spirit.” [Pope Saint Leo (The Great) I (after A.D. 461), Sermons,
of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
This most aptly applied to converts from paganism [see 1 Peter 1:18 (3rd Sunday of Easter, Cycle A)].
Gospel - John 14:1-12
Today’s reading takes place at the Last Supper – just after
Judas has left and Jesus has told the remaining eleven that He must
soon depart too. This reading has been called “Jesus is the way
to the Father”. The reading opens and closes with the commands to
believe in God and believe in Jesus. It makes the claim that, if one
will not believe Jesus’ words, then his “works”
should provide the grounds for knowing the Jesus and the Father are
Jesus said to his disciples: 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Jesus begins His teaching with reassurance in view of the fact that His
preceding words about His departure had saddened the disciples.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
Jesus has never hesitated to put Himself on the same level with the
Father in the common work of salvation, thus He and the Father are
equally the object of faith. To be a Christian, you must have faith in
God and faith in Christ, who is God.
2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
This is usually interpreted (even in ancient times) to mean the
heavenly kingdom to which Jesus is returning (although there are no
grounds for understanding “many” to mean “many
kinds” or “many degrees”). However, John probably
means another sense as well: In one way, after all, Christ has never
left heaven and consequently need not return. The Father’s house
is where God is, and whoever is with God is in His house; one of
Paul’s favorite metaphors for the Church is this “House of
God”. In this sense, the “many” would refer to the
many members of the Church on earth, where Christ will also be (this
too is an ancient interpretation).
If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
Though He has told the disciples that He will join them only later,
Jesus has just reassured them that there is ample room where He will
be. Therefore, they need have no fear that they will not find a place
for them in His company.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will
come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may
These words could refer to the parousia – the end of time –
but could also refer to Christ’s invisible return through the
4 Where (I) am going you know the way.”
The way here, is of Jesus Himself. The term “The Way” is
also a designation of Christianity in Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14,
5 Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know
where you are going; how can we know the way?”
Although Jesus has repeatedly told the disciples that He is going to
the Father, and in what way, through His sacrificial death, which the
model that all must take if they would follow Him, Thomas reflects the
ignorance of all the disciples. The disciples have shown themselves to
be as obtuse as Jesus’ Jewish opponents – what saves them
is their good will.
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
Truth in John is the divinely revealed reality of the Father manifested
in the person and works of Jesus. The possession of truth confers
knowledge and liberation from sin (John 8:32).
No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus is not just a guide to salvation, the map of the heavenly
geography, He is the source of life and truth; the only way.
“Unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood ...”
7 If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
With the glorification of Christ and the coming of the Spirit, their
understanding will be made perfect; even though they don’t
8 Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
The incomprehension is such that Philip asks for some kind of
extraordinary manifestation. He is asking for a theophany like Exodus
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for
so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen
me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the
Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the
Father is in me?
Jesus repeats almost word-for-word what he has stated on other occasions (John 7:16; 8:28; 10:38).
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who
dwells in me is doing his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works
themselves. 12 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do
the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these,
It follows from this that the Christian will also perform the works of
God, even as Christ has done on the same principle. These words, as
addressed to the first apostles, refer not only to the fact that the
works of the Christian believer are performed within the supernatural
order, but, first and foremost, to the Church as possessing and
continuing Christ’s divine power for salvation. Performance of
greater deeds doesn’t refer primarily to miracles, though these
will continue, but to the far greater scope, geographically and
numerically within which the Church will exercise its salvific power.
because I am going to the Father.
The condition of this activity is Christ’s glorification and the giving of the Holy Spirit.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org