Summary: Christians the world over will reimagine a world that is based on the teachings of Christ and the Church.
Tuesday of the third week of Easter 2020
Whenever authorities take exception to a popular movement, and try to stamp it out, if the movement is actually doing good they end up squishing it out all over the place. A few days ago our reading from the Acts of the Apostles featured the warning of Reb Gamaliel. He told the Sanhedrin to leave this Jesus movement alone. Wisely, he recalled from recent Israelite history multiple instances of so-called Messiahs and their bad end. Then he admonished his brethren that if they tried to suppress what was beginning to be called “The Way,” they might find out that they were fighting God. So, true to the name “Israel,” which means God-fighter, they killed deacon Stephen and began a vigorous persecution of the Jesus community, and just spread the contagion all over the place.
What was it that attracted so many to this early Catholic Church? First the Jews, then the Gentiles, began to believe in this convicted criminal, crucified by Rome. The readings from Acts has given us some of the answers in the days since Easter Sunday. They are summed up in the five “C’s”: creed, cult, community, code and canon. But before all of these, there were and are signs, in Greek, semeia. Jesus’s whole life was filled with signs–works that He did that showed his holiness and his power, power that was from God the Father, manifest in the Son.
Just a few verses before this reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus performed the miracle, the sign of multiplication of loaves and fishes. This was a sign of something far bigger, but it was so striking that the people were talking about carrying the Lord off and making Him an earthly king. Well, why not? Free bread and fish? Who could turn that down? There are whole political parties based on that kind of promise. But those people were missing the meaning because they were enraptured by the sign and not so interested in what it meant, what it predicted. First, it signified that the kingdom of God was already with them, and was with them in the person of Jesus. From before the time of Moses it was known that the reign of God would be a time of abundance, of grain and wine and olive oil without measure. So the miracle of loaves and fishes meant that the time of waiting was over, and the kingdom was manifest.
But even more the loaves looked forward to what we might say is the deepest meaning and function of bread, the Bread of Life, Jesus Himself. We could see hints of it earlier in chapter 6 when Jesus took the almost risible amount of food collected by the Apostles, blessed God and broke it and gave it to them for the people. And then, if they still didn’t get it, today’s word makes it clear that Jesus Himself is the bread of life, the food that truly satisfies and doesn’t give life for a day, or a week, or even a year, but for all eternity. That, then, is the foretaste of the Last Supper, and the re-presentation of that Supper which we call the Holy Mass.
So for those who believed, the early Catholic community was exactly what was needed on this earth with the sure promise of what is needed in the life to come. Here, they believed in the Son of Man, Jesus, the Son of God and fulfillment of the OT promises. They worshiped in spirit and in truth, because Jesus was the Truth, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and sharing the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of their Savior. They shared their day to day lives in a fellowship of mutual respect and service, where all experienced the poverty of their Lord, but nobody was destitute. They strove to love each other as Jesus had loved them, pouring out their lives for the Gospel, for their mission to spread belief in Christ. And they read from the Sacred Scriptures–what we call the OT–finding the Biblical roots of their faith and praying the psalms of David as well as new songs celebrating Jesus the Christ.
As we as a world begin to experience a kind of shared poverty of material goods in this disease-and-politics caused recession, perhaps Christians the world over will reimagine a world that is based on the teachings of Christ and the Church. For if we grow our faith in Jesus Christ, shared in the community He founded, and if we base our family economic lives on the Gospel, we shall always have enough in this life, but unimaginable treasures in the life to come.