“Father, they are your gift to me.”
That’s the Son of God speaking about a few fishermen, a former tax collector, and whatever else they did before they were called away from their former employment and former way of life. Now, they are fishers of men and women, collecting the good taxes of eternal life.
Is there anything better than witnessing one person raise the dignity of another person? Where the one who is in some sort of bind, some great need; illness, financial woes, depression, addiction, loneliness, in prison, and more. Where the one who is in the greatest need of having their dignity raised from the pit of destruction, has it raised by the love, concern, and good actions of another?
We see this in many places, such as a hospital setting, where family members go above and beyond by way of presence, words, silence, sustained concern for their loved one. We see such dignity being raised in the ordinary, quick actions of everyday life too, where an open door will remain opened for you by the hand of a total stranger, rather than shut in your face. It’s an act of your dignity being raised as a person. If there was a skunk following you into a building, you wouldn’t hold the door open for a skunk, would you? Thus, we have greater dignity than a skunk.
We do this for each other countless times a day, sometimes without realizing it, calling it common courtesy. Its human dignity being raised on the spot. And those acts of love and kindness do not go unnoticed; nor do they go unnoticed when they are not performed.
On the 7th Sunday of Easter the Church gives us the Gospel setting of intimacy with Christ, which, I pray, we all seek and desire, as St. Stephen did in the 1st reading. He couldn’t wait to be with Jesus. In the Gospel, we see an intimacy never before seen, heard, experienced, or known by any other person, even in Old Testament times. This scene with Jesus and his Disciples is more intimate than all that God did with the great Moses in bringing his people out of Egypt, with Noah in the beautiful divine symbol of the rainbow that symbolized a covenant with the holy and divine, or with Abraham and the Lord’s promise of countless descendants.
All those previous signs, wonders, and promises accomplished through intimacy with God, do not reach the height of intimacy we see in this Upper Room setting. Here, the closeness to God is realized in the human presence of the Divine. It’s most appropriate that this intimacy with Christ occurs in a place called the Upper Room, because he takes their fisherman and tax collector dignity and raises it above that of Abraham and Moses.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” That’s God in Person speaking about mere mortals. Mortals who heeded his call, as we do. Mortals who witnessed much over 3 years; demons being cast out; thousands upon thousands being fed by a few fish and loaves of bread; raising dead bodies to life; teaching the teaching of God’s perfection in the Beatitudes. Mere mortals, whom Jesus calls his gift, who ate and drank with him, who abandoned him, who returned to him, as we pray many will do, by way of God’s mercy.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” These smelly fishermen, these tax collectors who cheat, are God’s gift to his Son. Really? That’s really cute! “I wish that where I am, they also may be with me.” God never spoke those words about Abraham or Moses. Abraham would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. But these simple, hard-working Disciples sitting before Jesus, they would have – and still have centuries later – descendants for Christ as numerous as the stars in 20 skies, not just one.
Jesus raises the dignity of his disciples from their knowing so little about God, to living with Him forever, and being called his friends. For that, my friends, is what we are. We are friends of God. We are friends of the Cross-Carrier. The Sufferer. The Redeemer. The Savior. A friendship that was torn asunder is now repaired in the Resurrection. Repaired not in some sort of neutral way, where two people will say, “Let’s agree to disagree, so we can live in peace.” “Let’s agree to disagree” is a neutral stance that wisely avoids anguish and bitterness.
But the Lord carries us far beyond neutrality. He calls us his gift. And he says it to the Father who is listening. Jesus has sealed us to God forever. This is our dignity that the world can’t come close to giving. This world can’t even protect the unborn child. We create stupid laws that protect their destruction, where human dignity is violently crushed.
Jesus does the polar opposite. And every professed Christian should put some of that in their pipe and smoke it for awhile. Christ sees the gift that we are, even in our weakness. He raises our dignity as Christians even beyond that of Moses and Abraham. And he tells the Father so. That’s what love looks like. And we participate in this Gospel scene, in this human giftedness, every time we do the same for others.