Friday of the Second Week of Easter
May 6, 2011
Acts 5: 34-42; Jn 6: 1-15
A certain exegetical school holds that the miracle in today’s gospel is no miracle at all. Rather than having something miraculous in the text, what we have is an instance of Jesus teaching the disciples to be generous. No multiplication occurs in this incident; what happens instead is that Jesus prevails upon the disciples to share the loaves and fish with one another. Jesus has not done anything extraordinary here; He merely appeals to the better angels of our nature as some would want to put it.
We recognize in this approach to the scriptures a reflex which automatically favors the natural over the supernatural. Natural explanations are the only ones to seek because Christianity essentially does not have a transcendent meaning. Its fulfillment is ultimately in this world, and the only plane which should concern us is the horizontal one.
A naturalistic interpretation of things is not restricted to some contemporary exegetes. Naturalism is suggested too as a possible explanation for the behavior of the apostles in the Acts of the Apostles. In today’s first reading, the sacred author mentions a certain Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the law in the Sanhedrin. (cf. Acts 5:34) Gamaliel gives advice concerning what to do with the apostles. He is cautious and, in the end, counsels dismissal. Let them go, he urges. (cf. Acts 5:38) He argues this way: “[I]f this . . . activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.” (Acts 5:38) If, on the other hand, God is its source “you may . . . find yourselves fighting against [Him],” Gamaliel maintains. (Acts 5:39)
Today’s two readings suggest for us the attractiveness of naturalism as a way of seeing and ultimately interpreting what happens in the world. Two millennia separate the exegetes and the respected teacher of the law. In each era, though, you find this mentality. If nothing else, naturalism is persistent. It clearly has a long shelf life. It spans the ages, linking the old with the new without ever really becoming new itself.
Fr. Edward O’Connor is the author of a 1992 volume entitled The Catholic Vision. In the Introduction to his work, the Holy Cross priest says that the biggest threat to Catholicism does not come from attacks on the outside or dissent on the inside. Naturalistic humanism he regards as a more harmful threat than the other two – attacks and dissent. According to O’Connor, human life is determined by three factors: nature, grace and sin. Naturalistic humanism, he contends, honors nature but neglects grace and sin.
I’m not going to reflect on sin today. But I will offer a few comments about grace.
During the Easter season, the apostles Peter and John are paired together in the Acts of the Apostles. From Wednesday of the Octave through Monday of this week, their names are spoken – one after the other – in the daily liturgy. How marvelously different they are in conduct after the Lord’s Resurrection! They proclaim boldly, they heal in Christ’s name and they witness courageously in the face of persecution.
Their lives with the Lord do not begin at Easter, though. They are called well before that. Saint Luke tells us that Simon Peter and John were partners in the fishing business (cf. Lk 5:10) when the Lord calls them to apostleship. Early in Jesus’ public ministry, we see the two men are called away from their nets. From now on, the Lord wants them to catch men like themselves. (cf. Lk 5:10)
The work of catching others for the Lord no doubt has a humanistic side to it. Who would want to minimize or under-value the good work for the Kingdom and the Church that can be accomplished in those who are warm and inviting; witty and engaging; affable and bright? These qualities are indispensible for the work of evangelization and we should strive after making them our own if we seem to lack these gifts now.
At the same time, we must resist any attempt to weaken the primacy of grace in promoting the Kingdom and building up the Church. The Kingdom and the Church are gifts which the Lord does not withdraw from us. Because they are gifts of the Lord, He can always use weak vessels and still His will is not going to be thwarted.
Such is the case with Saint Paul, another key figure in the Easter season. He declares himself in the First Letter to the Corinthians to be unfit to be called an apostle for having persecuted the Church of God at one point. (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 9) The Lord, nevertheless, uses him as an instrument of His gracious will with the Gentiles. What Paul attains, he is careful then to attribute to grace. He tells the Corinthian Christians that God’s grace has not been ineffective in him. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10) Indeed, it has succeeded splendidly!
The Lord desires to use us as He did Saint Paul. With all of our limitations and defects, the Lord works with us that others may know Christ and His surpassing goodness. And He Who brings plenitude out of scarcity in today’s gospel will also bring good things out of us if we admit humbly that our nature needs to be enlightened and transformed by grace.
Christ has redeemed our human nature by His triumph over the grave. Let us not forget that it is the Lord’s victory and we share in it by His design. Here, at this Eucharist, we already taste and see the Lord’s goodness to us. Let us rejoice and be glad – not in nature as much as we do in grace’s renewal of it unto eternity.
Praised be the Risen Christ!
Msgr Robert Batule
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