Studying God’s Word

Acts 7:55-60                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20
John 17:20-26 [61C]
In the Gospel reading for the seventh and final Sunday of Easter, we hear Jesus’ prayer for future disciples, a prayer directed at us. He offers a prayer of petition to the Father for the unity of all believers and speaks of those who believe in him—past and present—as the Father’s “gift” to the Son.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the narration of Stephen’s martyrdom. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the Christian faith and Luke spends almost two chapters presenting the details leading up to the death of this disciple (6:8—8:1). In his telling of the story of the early church, Luke preserves many positive and inspirational events as well as some of the setbacks and darker moments. In today’s reading, we hear the details about Stephen’s stoning. Within the larger narrative context, Stephen was arrested under false charges and brought to trial before the Sanhedrin. Rather than defend himself against the false accusations, Stephen speaks of Israel’s historical pattern of resisting God and of being a “stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears.” The reaction of the Sanhedrin was not surprising: “infuriated … they ground their teeth” at Stephen and proceeded to stone Stephen. 
Luke uses the stoning of Stephen to introduce Saul (Paul) into the storyline of Acts. For Saul, this event would mark the beginning of his own personal crusade and persecution of the church. From the very beginning of the church, any potential unity among the Jews themselves on Jesus as their Jewish Messiah seemed impossible. It was Saul himself who was initially the most resistant to this unity. Only after a direct revelation from the resurrected Christ did Saul transform his mission of destroying the church into his mission of unifying the church.
The second reading is taken once again from the Revelation of John. We have heard from this last book of the Bible throughout the Easter season. Today’s reading is considered the epilogue to the Revelation of John: the end-time is soon to arrive. Jesus’ words to John are intended as a warning to all to remain faithful until the return of Christ: “Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” Jesus then describes himself as “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”—an image of perfect unity! The Revelation of John concludes with a prayer of petition: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” It is a fitting end to this apocalyptic narrative that has been unveiling to its readers the events associated with the return of Christ.
The Gospel reading is Jesus’ final prayer in John’s farewell discourse. The entire prayer (Jn 17:1-26) falls into three parts: 17:1-8, Jesus’ prayer for himself; 17:9-19, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples; 17:20-26, Jesus’ prayer for future believers. The theme of “glory” is heard throughout Jesus’ prayer. In his prayer for himself, Jesus asks the Father, “Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.” In his prayer for the disciples, Jesus acknowledges to the Father the role of the disciples in their divine relationship: “Everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them [the disciples].” And in his prayer for future believers, Jesus sees the “glory” of the Father and the Son as the source of unity for all the faithful: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jesus’ prayer for the unity of all believers is a fitting way to bring the season of Easter to a close as we celebrate the glory of God revealed in the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz