May 19, 2019 • Fifth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts 14:21–27
Psalm: Psalm 145:8–9, 10–11, 12–13 (cf. 1)
Second Reading: Revelation 22:1–5a
Gospel Acclamation: John 13:34
Gospel: John 13:31–33a, 34–35
The Bible is really all about kingdoms. It is the tale of two competing kingdoms.
The kingdom of man apart from God which is really ruled by its overlord Satan. It is temporary in nature and a good summary of its ultimate direction and character, if persisted in individually and collectively, can be found in Galatians 5:18–21 (NABRE):
But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is eternal. It is populated by people who have been delivered from the other kingdom and drawn into a restored relationship with their Creator, who is in the process transforming them into the likeness of His Son, as they learn to trust and walk with Him. Its ultimate direction and character, if persisted in individually and collectively, can also be found in Galatians 5:22–24 (NABRE):
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.
It is important to note that these kingdoms are at war with each other, and thus they influence one another, battle one another and infiltrate each other in this world. Thus, the kingdom of godless man isn’t as bad as it could be, and the kingdom of God isn’t as good as it should be in this world.
This Sunday’s readings are focused primarily on the Kingdom of God.
The First Reading, from Acts, summarizes life as experienced in God’s Kingdom in this world. The Psalm summarizes the characteristics of our God and King and His Kingdom. The Second Reading gives us a vision of God’s Kingdom coming to fruition and completeness. The Gospel reading is about Jesus, our King, in the final stages of carrying out God’s redemptive plan, preparing for His death and departure and giving His final overarching command for the citizens of His kingdom, to the men who will be the leaders of His Kingdom on earth, men whom He loves with the Father’s love for His children.
The context for the first reading is that the Apostle Paul and Barnabas are on the returning leg of their first missionary journey, which was basically a rescue mission in hostile territory. They have been wildly and joyfully successful by the might and power of God the King, while at the same time facing hostile and even murderous opposition in almost every city. The Apostle Paul was stoned nearly to death and dragged out of the city of Lystra, but God gave him a very speedy recovery, so that he was able to travel to Derbe the next day and preach the Gospel there.
The reading begins at this point in their return journey. Paul and Barnabas are traveling back through the cities where they have established communities of believers (churches) and are appointing elders (presbyters/priests) to lead them. They are also strengthening and exhorting them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
The first part of the saying summarizes part of our kingdom life in this world: it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships. Jesus says the same thing in John 16:33 (NABRE), “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” We experience both direct and indirect opposition in this world because it is a fallen, enemy-occupied world.
The second part of the saying is looking to the end of our journey, entering the fulfilled and complete Kingdom of God as victors. The Apostle Paul was always forward-looking, pressing on towards the goal.
We will also experience triumphs and joy in our kingdom life in this world. Paul and Barnabas return to a victory celebration at the church in Antioch.
In the Psalm, David extols the character of our God and King and His Kingdom.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
To which we rightfully respond, “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.”
The second reading is from Revelation 21, where we have a vision of what finally awaits us at the end of time. A renewed heaven and earth and the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, where the Church, the Saints of God, have gone, descending out of Heaven from God, adorned as a bride for her marriage to the Lamb. The old order, the competing kingdom of godless man and Satan, has passed away. No divided loyalties here. The Holy Trinity and a restored humanity are together at last. All sorrow, suffering and evil is gone.
Finally, in the Gospel, we see Jesus as Judas is on his way to betray Him, rejoicing that now the glory of the Father and the Son are being revealed in the events that will spell the defeat of the old order. Knowing He will soon return to the Father, He gives His final Kingdom commandment:
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.
We haven’t done so well in obeying this command. Thus, the Church is divided and our mission hampered. But God is working to resolve it, and we can hasten the coming Kingdom by cooperating with the grace of God in our lives, through the Church.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.