Fifth Sunday of Easter
Today, we invite you to explore the “Last Supper Discourse,” and the fate awaiting Jesus’s disciples, with the help of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez; engage Catholic Social Teaching through Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si and the Catholic Worker Movement; and embody these teachings with the example of tent city and homeless encampment organizing, and Catholic Worker involvement in this organizing.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
In those days, as the number of disciples grew,
a dispute arose between the Hellenistic Jews
and those who spoke Hebrew,
that the Greek-speaking widows were being neglected
in the daily distribution of food.
The Twelve assembled the community of disciples and said,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables.
Look around among your numbers for seven people
who are acknowledged to be deeply spiritual and prudent,
and we will appoint them to this task.
This will permit us to concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was unanimously accepted by the community.
They selected Stephen, full of faith and the Holy Spirit;
Philip; Prochorus; Nicanor; Timon; Parmenas;
and Nicolaus of Antioch, who had been a convert to Judaism.
They were presented to the apostles,
who prayed over them and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread,
while the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased enormously,
and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Response: The Creator loves justice and right.
Ring out your joy to the Creator, O you just; / for praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Give thanks to the Creator upon the harp, / with a ten-stringed lute sing songs.
R: The Creator loves justice and right.
For the word of the Creator is faithful, / and all God’s works are to be trusted.
The Creator loves justice and right / and fills the earth with love.
R: The Creator loves justice and right.
The Creator looks on those who stand in reverence,
On those who hope in God’s love,
To rescue their souls from death, / to keep them alive in famine.
R: The Creator loves justice and right.
Come to Christ —
a living stone, rejected by mortals but approved,
nonetheless, chosen and precious in God’s eyes.
And you are living stones as well:
you are being built as an edifice of spirit, to become a holy priesthood,
offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ.
For scripture has it,
“See, I am laying a cornerstone in Zion;
an approved stone, and precious.
They who put their faith in it will not be shaken.”
The stone is of value for you who have faith.
But for those without faith,
“The stone that the builders rejected has became the cornerstone.”
and, at the same time, “an obstacle and a stumbling stone.”
Those who stumble and fall are the disbelievers in God’s word;
it belongs to their destiny to do so.
You, however, are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood,
a consecrated nation, a people set apart” to sing the praises of the One
who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful, divine light.
Jesus said to the disciples,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith in me as well.
In God’s house there are many dwelling places;
otherwise, how could I have told you
that I was going to prepare a place for you?
I am indeed going to prepare a place for you,
and then I will come back to take you with me,
that where I am there you may be as well.
You know the way that leads to where I am going.”
Thomas replied, “But we do not know where you are going.
How can we know the way?”
Jesus told him,
“I myself am the Way. I am the Truth, and I am Life.
No one comes to Abba God but through me.
If you really knew me,
you would know Abba God also.
From this point on, you know Abba God
and you have seen God.”
“Rabbi,” Philip said, “show us Abba God, and that will be enough for us.”
“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you do not know me?”
Whoever has seen me has seen Abba God.
How can you say, ‘Show us your Abba’?
Do you not believe that I am in Abba God
and God is in me?
The words I speak are not spoken of myself;
it is Abba God, living in me,
who is accomplishing the works of God.
Believe me that I am in God and God is in me,
or else believe because of the works I do.
The truth of the matter is,
anyone who has faith in me
will do the works I do —
and greater works besides.
Why? Because I go to Abba God.”
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
Today’s gospel reading from John, situated in the text just after Jesus’s friend/betrayer Judas leaves the Passover table, and immediately before Jesus’s arrest, opens a full three-chapter monologue which has come to be known as the “Last Supper Discourse.” The bulk of this discourse is formed by Jesus speaking personally and prophetically to his best friends regarding what will befall them in the immediate future, after the minions of empire and temple have placed Jesus securely in the tomb, and then turned their faces toward the members of his beloved community. Their blood will be shed, their reputations destroyed, their local liberation movement consigned to the dustbin of history. Just like their beloved savior, there will be no place for them in this world anymore. And yet, Jesus assures them, God is doing something else here, something new, and old and eternal, but something familiar too, palpable in every collective struggle toward love and justice we see in the world today; something promised even before any of the prophets were born. Reading the text from our own geography, it’s almost as if you could press your ear to the page and hear the song that first rose from the shacks of the enslaved: “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!!”
In substance, the Last Supper Discourse is a remarkable testament to the blood-curdling human struggle of hope against fear. And while most preachers and homilists naturally tend to focus on today’s most powerful phrase, “I am the way and the truth and the life”, in my opinion, they do so at risk of what the old newspaper publishers used to call “burying the lead.”
Jesus says to the disciples in John 14:1-12: “In my parent’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
I believe this is the center of gravity on which the entire discourse rests. It is a faithful contextualization of the same promises YHWH spoke to both Abraham and Moses (the previous two most important figures in biblical salvation history), precisely because it affirms YHWH’s allegiance to the deepest heart yearnings of the poor throughout that history: the hope for a dwelling place in which liberation, love, and justice might reign eternally through the divine presence.
In fact, the brilliant and saintly liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez has made the persistent claim, based largely upon the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), that our own salvation, too, hinges on a personal commitment in this life to creating those spaces, those dwelling places for our unacknowledged neighbors. We must order our lives, he teaches, in such a way that we stop stepping over Lazarus.
In the parable, the chasm that prevents the rich man from reaching his formerly destitute neighbor in the afterlife is literally created by his own rejection of the responsibility to make a dwelling place for Lazarus on earth. And before we go down the road of spiritualizing or psychologizing this responsibility, Gutiérrez reminds us of two things: The first is that the parable is a faithful reflection of the global reality today – that the nations of the north, in a demonic quest for wealth and hegemony, are actively ignoring and trampling the nations of the south as they lay bleeding and starving on the front sidewalk of the global economy; and second, that this also describes the literal reality in our own place now, in our own neighborhoods, our own communities, driven by our capitulation to neoliberalism, predatory capitalism and the national security state.
Commentary by Mark Colville
Engage Catholic Social Teaching
In Laudato si his foundational encyclical on the environmental crisis, Pope Francis instructs us that it is the unhoused poor and refugees – those already denied the status of place and personhood, and pushed to the margins of society – who bear the brunt of the immediate mortal danger posed by climate change. He goes on to identify a renewed solidarity with them as essential to Catholic faith and practice, as the wealthier, war-making nations continue to abdicate their obligation to reverse this rapid progression toward the destruction of our common home:
“Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good. In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”
In real time, the dwelling places are dwindling, and the chasm keeps growing. Not coincidentally, then, in his address to Congress in 2015, Pope Francis named Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker movement, as one of the four greatest examples of human virtue to have come from the United States. Centered upon the daily practice of the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy, nonviolence, voluntary poverty, mutual aid, and community life, the Catholic Worker charism springs from the principle that the starting point of evangelization is not preaching or teaching or baptizing; it is hospitality.
As I’ve come to understand it (largely through having made a Catholic Worker house my own dwelling place during these last few decades), hospitality is an encounter with another in which there is no agenda but the other; it is how people find one another’s heart. In the Catholic Worker we have seen and come to know that when hospitality is practiced daily and mindfully among the poor, it can lead to the heart of a people’s struggle. And that is where Jesus is found. That is where the Gospel gets preached. That is where an evangelization rooted in solidarity can take hold in the world and transform it. That is where communities find the power to name and cast out the unclean spirits of hoarding, selfishness and individualism that torment us all.
It seems instructively appropriate, then, that today’s reading from Acts recounts the designation of Stephen, who would soon become the first Christian martyr, as one of the initial collective of deacons in the post-resurrection community. To me there can be little doubt that the zealous passion of his public witness – that for which he would promptly be killed – was rooted in Stephen’s constant direct experience of helping to bind up the wounds that poverty and injustice were inflicting on his neighbors. Undoubtedly, Gustavo Gutiérrez and Pope Francis would agree that the authority of Stephen’s words and deeds, along with their subversiveness, found their source in the ground on which he was standing. He had made a habit of being, every day, in the places where Jesus promised he would continue to dwell in the person of the poor. He came to know Christ personally by making of his own life a healing space for others.
A Contemplative Exercise
As a regular spiritual practice during the past few years, I’ve found myself returning to a particular point of meditation, also arising from John’s Gospel (Chapter 1, verses 35-40). Here, Jesus abruptly turns and faces two prospective disciples whom he notices are following him, and asks:
“What are you looking for?” To which they reply,
“Rabbi, where are you staying?”
“Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day.
The invitation to us, here and now, is unambiguous. We are called to consider our own geography, our own neighborhood, our own dwelling places, and to formulate the question anew: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
To name one example of a person in my life who has asked this question and followed its implications, I hold up my friend André, who for several years now has helped with the ministry of hospitality at the Amistad Catholic Worker. When the COVID pandemic descended upon us back in early 2020, the immediate response from the city of New Haven was to close all of the shelters where many of our unhoused neighbors had been taking emergency refuge. After a while, André began to notice that some of those folks had taken to sleeping in the side stairwells outside of city hall, which was being tolerated for a time by the police. He decided to meet them, and to begin a dialogue which was later expanded to include myself and other friends at the Catholic Worker.
What grew from these encounters was a collective relationship of mutual trust, which bore fruit that spring when six of those unhoused friends took the courageous step of setting up a new tent city, on a parcel of unused, publicly owned land. With support and solidarity from Amistad, they chose to do this in a semi-public way, claiming legal protection by the expressed authorization found in the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The encampment soon became a village, and it consistently housed as many as thirty to forty people during the course of the next three years.
Tragically and traumatically, just four weeks ago, the mayor ordered the village bulldozed, and the community was scattered. However, at the Amistad Catholic Worker we had become so inspired by the seeds that were sown there, that we established an encampment in our own backyard almost a year ago. To date, five of the neighbors who were evicted from the destroyed tent village have now taken up residence here, and we are contemplating plans to occupy some adjacent city-owned space to accommodate more. As a community, we have made a public pledge: every time the police scatter our unhoused and unacknowledged neighbors, we will gather them back together again.
Image description: An image of a sculpture of a person sleeping on a park bench. The sculpture is a bronze-gray color. The person has cloth draped over their face and upper body, and wears a robe. On their bare feet, which show underneath the robe, you can see the stigmata.