The National Catholic Review
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Fifth Sunday of Easter (A), April 20, 2008
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9)
In the second half of the Easter season the main questions are: How can the memory of Jesus be kept alive? and How can the movement begun by Jesus continue after his death and departure? Our chief guide in answering those questions will be excerpts from Jesus farewell discourses in John 1417. Their setting is the Last Supper, the night before he died. The departing Jesus instructs his closest followers about how they might preserve his memory and carry on his mission. These instructions remain relevant for the church in every age, and perhaps most especially today.

At the start of Jesus farewell discourses there is some dialogue. In these dialogues Jesus makes a statement; a disciple offers a comment that reveals a basic misunderstanding; and Jesus takes the occasion to provide positive teaching about himself.

In todays selection from John 14, Jesus first talks about preparing a place for his disciples and about the way that leads to that place. Thomas interrupts to ask, We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way? Jesus answers that the place is with his heavenly Father, and that he is the way and the truth and the life.

Then it is Philips turn. He says, Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us. This is no small request, and there is something awkward, even naïve about it. Yet Philips request is the occasion for Jesus to express the central and most profound insight in all of Johns Gospel: Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Johns central message is that Jesus is both the revealer and the revelation of God. If we wish to know who God is, what God thinks and what God wants of us, we must attend to Jesus the Word of God.

Because Jesus is Gods Word to us, whatever can be known and remembered about Jesus is precious precisely because in coming to know Jesus we come to know God. Our task as believers and as a church is to keep alive the memory of Jesus. We do this by reading and praying the Scriptures, gathering in Jesus name and celebrating the Eucharist in memory of him, handing on the great tradition of Christian faith and living according to his wise teachings. The memory of Jesus lifts up the precious value of human life, says that some actions are wrong, insists on the importance of selfless love and extends that love even to enemies, proclaims that death is not the end of us and affirms that in Jesus love and life have triumphed over hate and death.

Keeping Jesus memory alive remains one of the great challenges of the Easter season. In this task the institutional church must play a pivotal role. Todays selection from Acts 6 gives a glimpse of how early Christians developed some practical institutions to do this. The occasion is the apparent neglect of Hellenist (Greek-speaking) widows in the early Jerusalem community. To solve the problem, the Twelve see to it that seven Christians with Greek names are appointed (as deacons?) to care for the needs of those widows and others. The incident shows how and why the early church developed social institutions and church offices to keep Jesus memory alive. The result was that the word of God continued to spread.

Being part of the church of Jesus Christ imparted to its members a new identity and dignity. The Gentile Christians addressed in 1 Peter may well have been social and political outsiders. Nevertheless, Peter applies to them the loftiest titles applied to Israel in the Old Testament. Through their baptism in the name of Jesus they are now a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his [Gods] own. Their task is to bear witness to Jesus as the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God. Those who were once no people are now Gods people, commissioned to proclaim how God has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Keeping alive the memory of Jesus is the task of every Christian and of the church as a whole. If we really believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, then we will find fresh and creative ways to keep alive his memory. If we really believe that whoever has seen and heard Jesus has seen and heard the Father, then keeping alive Jesus memory is the noblest and most important task that any of us can take up and carry out.


Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., is professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.
Readings: 
Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12
Prayer: 

• What aspects of Jesus’ person, teaching and activity are most important for you?

• How do you try to keep Jesus’ memory alive?

• How might the church today be more effective in keeping Jesus’ memory alive?