Becoming Jesus: in spirit and truth

Tom Bartolomeo
5th Sunday Easter A 2014
Acts 2: 14,22-33, Psalm 16
1 Peter 1: 17-21, Luke 24: 13-35
Reproduced with Permission

There were times when Jesus' assertions were met with deafening silence. The time, for instance, when he drove the money brokers from the temple and the high priests and professionals confronted Jesus and demanded from him a 'sign' of his authority (he must have been that convincing). "Stop making my Father's house a market-place!", Jesus said, and, besides, I will "destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2: 14 ff). The Jews scoffed at Jesus, saying their temple had been undera construction for forty-six years. Silence.

Some time later one of the captains of the temple was told to arrest Jesus but failing explained to the exasperated temple authorities, "No one spoke like him." (John 7: 44-46). Jesus had that effect on people including his enemies. The evangelist commented that Jesus was speaking about himself and the temple of his body rising from the dead in three days. Nicodemus who soon afterwards visited Jesus after his confrontation with the temple authorities wanted to understand and went unnoticed at night to visit Jesus. In their conversation Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again to see God. Nicodemus was puzzled and replied, "Can anyone return to his mother's womb and be born, again?" Like teacher to student Jesus instructed Nicodemus, "no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3: 6-7).

Jesus became a man of "spirit and truth". The substance of faith, hope and charity is borne only in the spirit of man not the body. The early Church after Pentecost embodied the spirit and truth of Jesus fulfilling his prayer at the last supper, "Father, that they be one as you and I are one" in spirit. The Apostles and the early Church achieved what mankind before Christ had not, a religion and a relationship of men with God in spiritual dimensions. (John 17: 21 ff). When a crowd of visitors were in Jerusalem for Pentecost they witnessed the extraordinary 'signs' of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' Apostles. Peter spoke to the crowd, "you crucified and killed" Jesus "whom God raised up and freed him from death . . . ." When they heard this, they were cut to the quick and replied, "Brothers, what should we do?" Peter answered, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That same day three thousand Jews were converted and baptized, ten percent of the population of Jerusalem. (Acts 2: 22 ff). And the Apostles, we are told, "devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2: 44).

The Apostles knew their mission and would not be dissuaded. When the issue of caring for the widows among them who had no means of support Peter said, "It is not right to neglect the word of God to serve at table." Choose others for the work "so we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." (Acts 6: 1-2). By Jesus own example they traveled across Israel and to nations beyond Israel in order to spread the word of God. The morning after Jesus had settled in Capernaum at the beginning of his mission his disciples told him, "Everyone is searching for you." Jesus replied, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the word there, too; for that is why I came into the world." (Mark 1: 38). Jesus and his disciples were constantly moving from one place to another so much so that when a prospective disciple asked to join him Jesus forewarned him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8: 20). If that is not clear enough soon we will celebrate Jesus's ascension and return home when he empowered his church to continue his work in the world, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28: 19).

The synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught no longer exists. All that remain are some broken walls and columns. The church where Jesus once taught has moved on in the spirit and truth of his disciples not into buildings and offices where much of God's work languishes today behind plaster walls dealing with the temporal affairs of the church. The Apostles, true to the meaning of "apostles", those who are sent, traveled to horizons of the world known to them. They were busy living out 'the Word' among others. Institutions do not make church. Only living stones of people, you and I, make church as the Apostle Peter taught, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation -- if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house . . . ." (1 Peter 2: 2-5). Many of our Christian institutions have lost their mission because they are too concerned with their mortal existence and accommodations rendering God to Caesar. This applies not simply to the leaders of the church but to many of her members. We forget that as living stones God has no preferences as the Apostle Paul stated, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3: 28). We can no longer identify ourselves with brick and mortar. Today the number of Catholic schools in our country number less than they did in 1908. Numerous parish churches, buildings and rectories are being closed which may lead to more apostolic work if we choose to "go and make disciples". It worried the great Apostle to the world, Paul:

But how are they to call on one [Jesus Christ] in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one [Jesus Christ] of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!' But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?' So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14-17).