Thursday, 17 May 2018

Easter Week 7 Thursday

Readings: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; Psalm 16; John 17:20-26

'Divide and conquer' is Paul's strategy facing the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. He knew better than most the make up of that body, on one side the Sadducees of the priestly families with their liberal, reductive, style of theology, and on the other the Pharisees, more zealous and religious, believing not only in angels and spirits but also in 'the resurrection of the dead'. Whether the Pharisees understood this as yet another kind of 'spiritual' reality is not clear. Perhaps they did, while Paul had come to believe in the resurrection in quite a different sense.

But that did not matter for the moment. Strategically, the most important thing is that Paul set them at each other's throats. From the perspective of the Divine Strategy of Acts the most important thing is that Paul, having borne witness to the Lord in Jerusalem, is told (by the Lord, in a vision) that he must now also bear witness in Rome.

It is fitting that Paul of Tarsus, citizen of the Roman Empire, one of the most significant figures of the ancient world, should end his career in the capital city of that world. In him will be fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus at the beginning of Acts, that the apostles would bear witness to Jesus in Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Paul thought of going to Spain (another kind of 'end of the world') but the Spirit of Jesus led instead to Rome.

Today's gospel passage brings Jesus' 'high priestly' prayer to an end. It is, fittingly, a doxology, celebrating the glory which the Son has with the Father before the foundation of the world. A mysterious unity in mutual knowing and loving (what we usually call simply 'the Holy Spirit') is shared with human beings through the life and teaching, death and glorification of Jesus. It is an intimacy in knowing and loving, a union of life and love, for which our most fulfilling experiences of love are invaluable and but still very poor analogies.

It is clear in what the glory does not and does consist - not a shining light and rolling thunder, not a blazing storm or a shattering earthquake, but something like a still, small voice, or a lamb led to the slaughter. Unity, loving, mutual knowing. What are such things in a noisy world of conflict, struggle, argument? Paul has no hope of getting round to teaching his accusers something about this rich mystery which is the Father in Jesus, Jesus in us, and so the Father in us. There is the gospel and the rich promise of eternal life which it carries, a shared life even now in the Blessed Trinity. But there are always also the hearers and receivers of the message. Something has to happen in them too if they are to believe what they hear, something like a conversion, a new heart, a veritable resurrection of the spiritually dead.

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