7th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/17/15)
first reading: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
second reading: 1 John 5:9-13
gospel: John 17:6-19
Don’t you just love St. John? Don’t you just love the way he present Jesus’ words – so clear, so plain? Don’t you just love the way he has Jesus spell everything out for us, so that we can easily understand what he means?
I hope you realize I’m being sarcastic.
Our gospel reading for today is one of those that you have to read over and over again, very carefully, before you even start to decipher what Jesus was trying to say.
It’s no wonder that people get frustrated with reading the Bible. When we come to passages like this one, it’s easier to just give up and grab for the newspaper than to try and follow the maze of Jesus’ thoughts.
I wish sometimes that St. John’s gospel could be more like St. Mark’s – just give us the main point and get on with it. But we can’t beat up on John too much, because in the end, there’s something to be said for his style – for the way in which he records Jesus’ words.
When I was learning Greek in seminary, the language in which the New Testament was written, our professor told us that one of many reasons to learn Greek was so we would be forced to read the passages slowly.
When we can read them quickly, we tend to skip details that might be important – or assume we know what a passage means without really thinking about it. For example, one word, when carefully looked at, can change the whole meaning of a passage – or open it up for us, when it first appears confusing.
And that’s what I want to do this morning.
There are words and phrases that Jesus says repeatedly in this prayer to the Father, and I want to concentrate on one – GIVING.
“Those whom you gave me… you gave them to me… everything you have given me… words that you gave to me, I have given them…” and so on.
WE READ VARIOUS TENSES OF THE WORD “GIVE” NINE TIMES IN JUST SEVEN VERSES.
There is a pattern we discover when we look carefully and slowly at how Jesus uses this word, a pattern which says something important about the way our lives and faith should be shaped.
First – the Father gives to Jesus. Then, Jesus receives the gifts.
And what does Jesus do with the gifts the Father has given to him – the word, the truth, the joy, the unity? Does he keep all these gifts to himself?
NO. As he received from the Father, he himself gives away. He passes it on.
In verse 8 we read a good summary of this. Jesus says, “…for the words that you gave to me, I have given them, and they have received them…”
This is a good model for you and me. As God gave to Jesus, so Jesus gives to us. Everything we have, everything we ARE, comes from God – everything down to the gift of life itself. And when we receive from Jesus it is then our calling to pass it on, just as Jesus did. We extend what we are given to those around us.
Unfortunately though, in our society, we are constantly tempted to act otherwise.
It’s in our nature. Just think of how hard it is to teach children to share. It’s a never-ending battle. And it can be just as hard for grown-ups. But the consequences when grown-ups don’t share are considerably greater than the consequences for not sharing the building blocks or matchbox cars.
When grown-ups can’t or won’t share, or give away, people usually suffer and/or DIE.
Poverty comes when we won’t share our wealth – hunger comes when we won’t share our food – wars come usually when we won’t share the land or the power.
Giving or sharing can be especially hard when we believe that the accumulation of money or “things” will bring us joy. Just drive this car, wear these clothes, get this nice big house – and you’ll have it all. Giving or sharing is hard when we’re brought up with messages like “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.”
Giving or sharing is hard when we’re jealous of those who have “more,” and when we live in a culture that preaches a gospel of self-fulfillment and egoism. What’s most important is what feels good for me. I am not my brother’s keeper (although we KNOW what God thought about THAT excuse!).
When we’re bombarded with messages that tell us to keep things for ourselves, and to look with disdain on those we deem less fortunate – that somehow their LACK of success is a symptom of laziness or inherently inferior – it becomes hard to give anything away.
As a result we become isolated from one another. But God NEVER intends for us to lock ourselves away from each other.
God does not want us to be so protective of our stuff and ourselves, that we lose out on the joy of relationships – with one another AND with God. God doesn’t want us to hoard our God–given gifts, but to share them – to give them away.
As we receive, so we give – and not to focus on the human approval of the receiver, but on our spiritual NEED to give. PERIOD.
After all, Jesus didn’t make our “deserving” a requirement for his giving, did he? In fact, he gave himself precisely because we DIDN’T deserve it!
As the Father gave to Jesus, as Jesus gives to us, so we are to give to one another. At the end of our reading Jesus makes this clear by saying that just as HE was sent, he now sends US.
“For the words that you gave me, I have given to them…” “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent THEM into the world.”
Let us go then, and give to all around us what was first given us –
the Word of Life, the Word of Truth, the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ our Lord.