Two questions came to my mind as I thought about today’s gospel. What does it mean to follow the way of Christ? And what does Christ mean when he says that we will do greater works once he ascends to the Father?
Starting with the second question, at first glance it seems a strange thing to say. How can we do better than the resurrection, the feeding of the 5000, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the preaching of the word of love? Maybe Jesus is talking about the growth of the Church. After all, when he ascended to the Father the Church consisted of at most a few hundred people living in Palestine. Now of course there are many millions of followers of Christ, spread across the world. Is that what Jesus is talking about?
Well, maybe, but in my opinion he could well be talking about our faith. To persevere in belief after the ascension took real courage then, and it takes real courage now. A greater work than belief in the risen Christ who was standing in front of them.
How easy would it have been, after the ascension, for Peter to have gone back to his fishing boat, Matthew back to collecting taxes, Mary Magdalene just gone back to her home?
No, they persevered in faith, they spread the word, and their lives, and the world, were fundamentally changed because of that.
I can well believe that having the courage to persevere in following Jesus after the ascension was a greater work. So it is today. How hard often to persevere in faith, how easy in Australia today to walk away from path of Christ. And so, we return to the first question, what does it mean to follow the path of Christ, if He is the way?
Look at the gospels. Does Christ grasp riches? Does He use power to impose his will? Does he seek prestige to become one of society’s powerful people? Does he defend himself with force?
No to all those.
We start to see that following the way of Christ is not the way of the world. Certainly the Roman Empire was a place where riches, power and violence were worshipped. That’s what the worship of Caesar was all about, worshipping worldly success. It was because they refused to worship Caesar that Christians in the Empire were persecuted.
In Australia today there is certainly the temptation to worship money, power, prestige, force. If we turn our back on that worship, if we believe that it is greater to serve than to be served, then we can be confident that we are following the way of Christ.
The way of Christ is the way of service. As Christ emptied himself of power, and became the servant of all, so are we his followers called to serve the world. How do we serve the world in the way of Christ?
For the Seven mentioned in the first reading it meant ensuring that even the powerless and neglected could have the good news preached to them. As the church grew it meant that, as well as preaching the gospel of love, Christians would work to feed, clothe and shelter the poor, care for the sick and dying, visit the lonely and imprisoned.
The church is doing all these works today, here.
It is a tragedy that many in Australia today see the church only as an arrogant, powerful and abusive institution. We cannot deny that that has been a part of the story, that the church has at times been more interested in power and prestige than in truth and service, and that where that happens, abuse can flourish.
But we know that in hospitals and homeless shelters, soup vans and refugee housing, schools, welfare and disability services, Christ is present in the work of Christians, the work of the church. Christians in parishes and communities around the world serve their neighbours, and preach the gospel of love.
Our Lord tells us that the Father’s house has many rooms. So there are many places, inside outside the Church, where the work of Christ continues, where Jesus way is followed, even by many who may not be officially in the church.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. May we be able to see, and do, his works and follow his way, in many places.
Deacon Jim Curtain, 10 May 2020