Tuesday, May 8, 2018


The Apostles

"Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world . . . While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost  . . . I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them." These words of Jesus from the Gospel for this week seem specially pertinent for the Sunday after the Ascension. Yet John  recounts them as having been said before the Crucifixion. So the waiting period between Ascension and Pentecost should be seen as the culmination of a process that began when Jesus knew that his ministry was over and the time of his sacrifice had begun.

Without Jesus in their midst, the Apostles are especially vulnerable. They have to stand in a place of spiritual and moral tension. Jesus recognizes that, as his followers, they ‘do not belong to the world’ and yet he does not ask God to ‘take them out of this world’. This ambivalent relationship to everyday life is crucial. Christ's disciples live in the world, often very actively and energetically. But insofar as they do so for God, and in Christ, they run the risk of being despised, or even hated, by ‘realists’. While true disciples cannot just go along with the ways of the world, their holiness does not rest on rejecting the world. Rather they are committed to living in it ‘sanctified in the truth’. 

To be sanctified in the truth means being a witness for the Christ who is no longer immediately present. Faithful disciples are people whose words and actions present a perpetual challenge to every false faith, however widely held -- that belief economic prosperity, political success, military conquest, or social prestige constitute the indispensable elements of a life worth living. Idolatry nowadays does not often consist in 'bowing down to wood and stone'. The idols against whom Christians are called to bear witness are much more alluring than this, and for this reason those who worship them are likely to do so with dogmatic insistence on their importance and value.

Duccio Apostle Matthias (1311)
Who is called to witness as Peter, James and John were?
In the reading from Acts set for this Sunday, Matthias is called to be an disciple, not directly by Jesus, but by the other apostles. This brief episode shows that discipleship was never confined to those who encountered Jesus in the flesh. Everyone and anyone, at any time and in any place, can hear the call to be 'sanctified in the truth'.

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