Saturday 24 May 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Always with us: Jesus and his Spirit

To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 8:5-8,14-17; 1 Pet 3:15-18; Jn  14:15-21

Someone once said tongue in cheek: “The reason mountain climbers are tied together is to keep the sane ones from going home.” Whoever said that may have been joking, but only partly. For, though we know that mountain climbers are tied together to keep from getting lost or going over a cliff and even to support and encourage one another, there is another piece of truth here. When things get difficult up on the mountain, when the going gets tough, when the path is too steep, when fear sets in, many a climber is tempted to say, “This is too difficult! It’s crazy! I’m going home.” This is understandable and sometimes even prudent.

The life of faith can be like that. When doubts set in and despair overwhelms us, the whole notion of believing in God seems crazy. Jesus was aware that his disciples would have days like that, and so the focus in the opening verses of this chapter (Jn 14) read last week was on the confidence that the disciples are exhorted to have, since Jesus will overcome death and return.

Here the focus is on two interconnected aspects. The first of these is the intimate connection between the love which one has for Jesus and keeping his commandment of love – a theme which begins and ends this text – and the second is the promise of the Advocate, Helper, Comforter, Counsellor or Paraclete that Jesus will ask for the disciples from the Father who will come to their aid and to give strength and courage when the going gets tough and the road is steep.

In the first, Jesus is explicit that the love of the disciple has to be a tangible love that will express itself in action. It is to be an imitation of the love that the first letter of Peter speaks about; the love of Christ who died for the guilty to lead us to God. This kind of unconditional love will lead to the disciple sharing in the Father’s love.

It also leads to the second and connected aspect: the promise of the gift of the Advocate who will abide not only with the disciples but also in them. The Advocate can mean variously, “the one who comforts”, “the one who helps” and “the one who makes appeals on one’s behalf”. This Advocate will not engage in any new work, but will continue the work of Jesus. The Spirit will ensure that the revelation of God begun in Jesus will continue forever. Though the Paraclete will be with the disciples, Jesus himself will also return to accompany the disciples.

While not abandoning traditional beliefs – for instance, in the second coming and judgement – John handles them in a way which relates them directly to the present. The chief focus of his spirituality is not bigger miracles or stricter commandments, but the expansion of the initiative of love which comes from God and seeks to fill the world. This is why John’s account of Jesus’ last words insists on the Spirit, relationship and resultant action on communities of love which ‘speak for themselves’. The passage is framed by human anxiety about the absence of Jesus and ultimately about the absence of God (14:1; 14:27). It does not deny the anxiety and distress, but offers a promise of presence and sense of meaning embedded in sharing God’s life and participating in God’s action in the world, recognizable by its ‘Jesus-shape’. These parting words of Jesus are not merely for his immediate disciples but disciples of all times.

This is why even after the death of Stephen by stoning and the general persecution of the Christian community, Philip, one of the seven chosen deacons, is aware of this presence of the Risen Lord and is bold to proclaim Christ. The Spirit working in and through him enabled him to both preach and act as Jesus himself had done. The result of Philip’s actions through the guidance of the Spirit was that people were made whole. This combination of healing word and action resulted in great rejoicing, and many were drawn to Christ.

This presence, in which the disciples loved, continued to sustain them and make an impact on others. Since this was so, they are exhorted in the second reading of today to be willing to share that hope. It is not to be a sharing that smacks of condescension or a sharing which professes to have the whole truth, but a sharing that has to be done in humility, courtesy and reverence for the other. We are given as it were a starting point for inter-religious dialogue.

This kind of sharing is the need of the hour in today’s world. In a world that is already a global village but also where each community is becoming more closed in on itself and parochial, the task of the Christian community is evident. Convinced that the Risen Lord continues to accompany us on our journey in and through his Spirit which abides in each of us, we must be able to communicate this presence which is manifested in peace, joy, fellowship and justice for all.

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