Sunday's three readings have one thing in common: Our sacred authors believe that one best experiences the risen Jesus and joins in His dying and rising by entering into situations and actions which have unpredictable results.

The author of Revelations (Rev. 21: 1-5) gives words to one of our most basic needs: the quest to start over in life. "I, John," he writes, "saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away."

Yet we don't have to be transported to another galaxy to experience this newness. "Behold," the writer states, "God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them as their God." Such newness isn't produced by simply changing the externals of our life. According to the seer, it comes only when "the old order has passed away."

New life

The only problem is that those who are still waiting for God to "make all things new" haven't noticed that Jesus has already given us the insight and power to transform everything in our lives. Newness arrives only when we start to live our lives in a new way.

Luke, the author of Acts, recognizes this transformation springing from the actions of the early Christian community (Acts 14: 21-27). He presents Paul and Barnabas as disciples who appreciate the dying dimension of faith. Notice what the pair said to strengthen their converts. "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God."

That statement takes on an even deeper meaning when we hear it in the context of two apostles' unique ministry. They've stepped outside the traditional, safe practice of preaching Jesus only to Jews. During the course of their first missionary journey they proclaim Him to all with whom they come in contact, even Gentiles! And their proclamation has taken hold.

When they arrived back in Antioch, "they called the church together and reported what God has done with them and how He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles."

Mainstream Jewish/Christians had no idea what would happen if Gentiles, as Gentiles, were invited to share the faith of Jesus. No one had ever done that before. Through Paul and Barnabas, Luke assures us that people who have never heard of the law of Moses can still become excellent disciples of Jesus. But, of course, Luke believes that one only discovers this basic truth of our faith by living in the circumstances in which God has placed us while at the same time dying to those circumstances enough to take a step or two into the unknown.

New love

If Paul and Barnabas didn't proclaim Jesus' message only within the perimeters of Judaism, how did they proclaim it? John gives us a hint in the Gospel (Jn 13: 31-35). The evangelist places these familiar words in Jesus' mouth immediately after He washes His disciples' feet during the last meal He shares with them. According to John, such generous acts of loving service happen only if we're willing to take a step outside the everyday sameness of our lives.

Jesus announces: "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."

John's Jesus asks His followers to imitate His death, not by physically being nailed to the cross with Him, but by stepping into the unknown with Him. We never know what our acts of loving, non-controlling service to others will bring. They're completely unpredictable. Our sacred authors simply assure us that if we perform such actions with the same faith with which Jesus performed them, we'll receive the same life Jesus received.

We should never be afraid to trade the security which predictability offers for the life which Christian unpredictability brings.

 

(05-10-01)