ColumnsSunday’s Word

The first deacons

May 10, 2020


Acts 6:1-7

The first deacons

Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19

Give thanks on the harp

1 Pt 2:4-9

The living stone, rejected

Jn 14:1-12

Beginning of the Supper Discourse


This week yields an embarrassment of riches, as the saying has it. As we move deeper into the Easter season, we progress further into Acts of the Apostles. Likewise, we begin to explore the famous Supper Discourse of Jesus in John 14-17. Meanwhile, the reading from 1 Peter, the New Testament letter that is featured during this year’s Easter season, offers a rich play among scripture verses, based on the image of the foundation or cornerstone.

But let’s look briefly at each.

In Acts, we are still in Jerusalem. We will not leave until chapter eight. But today’s account marks an important milestone. The account in Acts widens its horizon in three notable moves (Acts 1-5, 6-12, 13-28). Each begins with a list of names, a place name, a rite of initiation, and a major speech. The names are the eleven apostles (1:13), the seven deacons (6:5), and the five “prophets and teachers” (13:1). The rites are casting of lots or laying on of hands (1:24-26; 6:6; 13:3). The places named are Jerusalem (1:12), Judea and Samaria, the surrounding territory (8:1), and “the ends of the earth” (13:47). And the major speeches for each stage are given by the apostle Peter (2:14-35), the deacon Stephen (7:2-53), and Paul of Tarsus (13:26-41). In this way, the author, Luke, gives us an image of the expanding Christian movement. The selection for today is the beginning of the second stage.

The reading from the first letter of Peter plays with the biblical image of stones. Alluding to passages from Isaiah and Psalm 118, the letter evokes the history of God’s people, ignored by the nations, but chosen by God. The experience of exile had a chastening effect upon their sense of themselves, and consequently of God’s favor. Psalm 118, a hymn recited during solemn processions into the temple speaks of the Jerusalem temple as the foundational stone of God’s presence among them. The stone that was rejected has become the cornerstone. In his final week, following the temple cleansing, Jesus is shown quoting this line in reference to his own rejection (Matt 21:42, and parallels). He is the stone rejected. The passage from I Peter follows the same idea.

The gospel passage begins the Supper discourse of Jesus. It is four chapters long (John 14-17), and prepares the disciples for what is to follow, Good Friday through Easter Sunday.

Its theme is the anticipated departure of Jesus, as he looks ahead to his death, and resurrection. That is the rationale for featuring these passages each year during the Easter season.

Jesus promises the disciples that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house. One is reminded of the opening prologue of this gospel, where it states, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (1:14). However, the words for “dwelling” differ. That in 1:14 is related to the word for tent. It is a temporary dwelling. The Word camps among us, in effect. The different word in today’s reading refers to an abiding location, a more permanent place. This reflects the theology of John, looking toward a permanent home.

The passage continues on in response to a stated doubt of Thomas: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” In response, Jesus utters the famous words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The entire gospel is an explanation of what this means. For the present, however, Jesus elaborates on the “Way.” He is the way to the Father. The way that he is facing at the moment is the path through crucifixion to resurrection.

For reflection: There may be a thematic unity among today’s readings. Or maybe it is simply the seasonal meaning of Easter.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.