Sunday of Week 6 of Easter (Year A)

Commentary on Acts 8:5-8, 14-17, 1 Peter 3:15-17, John 14:15-21

The common theme of John’s Gospel which we are reading these weeks is the fact that Jesus, following his resurrection, has left us and returned to his Father. At the same time, he is still with us, but in a different way from before his death on the cross. And today’s readings tell us that it is through the Spirit of the Father and the Son that that presence is experienced by us.

We see this clearly expressed in today’s gospel passage. Jesus is telling his disciples at the Last Supper that, through the Spirit, he will continue to be with them – and us – forever. He calls the Spirit an ‘Advocate’. In other biblical translations he is called a ‘Counsellor’ (NRSV,NIV), ‘Comforter’ (King James), Counsellor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby (Amplified Bible), Advocate (NAB, NRSV). The Greek word is parakletos, from which comes the older word ‘Paraclete’. Basically a ‘paraclete’ is someone like a defence lawyer, someone who stands by you in court, gives you support, advice and comfort in difficult situations where you need help. That is precisely the role of the Spirit in our Christian life. The Spirit teaches, guides, supports, consoles and comforts as we try to be faithful in our following of Christ’s Way.

Pointing the Way
He is the Spirit of Truth, the same Truth that Jesus himself represents.

I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

That Truth is not just a list of dogmas or doctrines. It represents a deep understanding of what life is really about, of how it is to be lived in partnership with one’s brothers and sisters in our common search to make this world truly God’s Kingdom – to make this world the kind of place that God wants it to be. It combines the ideas of wholeness and integrity, a total harmony between the inner and outer self and between the self and God. All this we find in the highest degree in Jesus.

Many in the world do not recognise the Spirit. The ‘world’ here represents all those who live only for themselves, who see everyone else and everything else as stepping stones to their own advancement, their own pleasure and enjoyment. Such people are totally deaf to the Spirit.

We, however, who have accepted Christ and his Gospel do know the Spirit.

He is with you, he is in you.

So, although Jesus tells his disciples that he is about to leave them and they are clearly alarmed and despondent at the idea, he reassures them that he will come back, he will continue to be with them though in a different way.

An end and a beginning
To the ‘world’, Jesus’ death on the Cross was the end of everything. He had been a flash in the pan. A sensation of a kind in that corner of the world. Jesus Christ the ‘Superstar’. But now, as Jesus speaks with his disciples at the Last Supper, it was all about to end in total failure and degradation. But those who can see, discern in the cross, not dismal failure, but the triumph of love over hate. They can see that the object of that love is themselves, they know that Jesus has passed into life and that all those who identify themselves totally with him and his vision of universal Love still enjoy his presence.

Jesus was lifted up in glory on the cross, and:

On that day, you will understand that I am in the Father and you in me and I in you!

And how is that to be brought about?

If you love me you will keep my commandments.

And what are those commandments? Quite simply it is to put Love at the heart of all living.

The greatest love a person can show is to give their life for their friends.

This is what Jesus did for us and what we are called on to do for others.

By this will all know that you are my followers, that you have love for each other.

And what is that Love? As we have mentioned before, this Love is an unconditional desire for the well-being of every single person. Another word for ‘love’ in the Gospel is ‘service’. Not the service of the slave for a master, not the service of the specialist – be he/she doctor, lawyer, priest – for the lay person, but the service of one brother/sister to another brother/sister without any distinction of rank, race, nationality, religion or whatever.

The Way to loving God
It is all summed up in this final sentence:

Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him/her.

We love God not just by expressing our love directly for him but by the way in which we extend Love to all those around us without any exceptions whatever. And all those who love Jesus will receive the love of the Father. But how to love Jesus? We love Jesus when we love him in our brothers and sisters.

Whatever you do to these the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.

When we live our lives in this way we will in turn experience God’s love and grow in our familiarity with him.

Disciples and apostles
We see that love of God and Jesus coming to the people of Samaria in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. That love comes to them through the deacon Philip and his companions as they proclaim the message of the Gospel. Great signs of healing follow. The examples of evil spirits being driven out and the curing of individuals who were crippled and paralysed point to the much deeper liberation that comes through our surrender to the Gospel: a real healing and being made whole, and a liberation from everything that inhibits our being fully functioning people.

This experience leads to their total acceptance of the Gospel and their being filled with the Spirit of the Father and of Jesus. What they received from Philip, they in their turn will now communicate to others who have yet to hear the message. The lesson for our own Christian lives is so clear. To be a disciple of Christ is to be not only a disciple, a follower but also an apostle, sharing our experience of knowing Christ with others.

A message to be made one’s own…
The way in which we are to do this is indicated by the Second Reading today:

Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.

Given that we have an inner conviction of the truth of Christ and his message, we must be always ready and able to give people an adequate explanation of our faith. It is not just something we hold because we were told to do so or because we read about it in a book. It may have begun there, but now it is something based on an inner conviction arising from personal experience. As St Paul says,

I know in whom I believe.

And that inner conviction must flow out into our behaviour – our words, our actions, the way we relate with other people, whoever they may be.

…but not always welcomed
Peter tells us to share our faith:

…with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander you when you are living a good life in Christ may be proved wrong in the accusations that they bring.

It is a paradox that, like Jesus himself, our very goodness may be the reason we are attacked. But we need also to be sure that we have not given genuine cause for criticism, that we do not proclaim one thing and do something else. We know that happens too often with all of us.

And Peter adds,

If it is the will of God that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong.

Indeed the eighth Beatitude describes as happy and fortunate those who are privileged to be maligned and persecuted for their faithfulness to truth and love and justice. And, if we think that strange, let us not forget that:

Christ himself, innocent though he was, died for the guilty [and that means all of us] to lead us to God.

So in today’s Mass, we rejoice in the gift of the Spirit by which the Father and Jesus his Word continue to be with us, and in us, and to guide us in the Way in which he guarantees our true happiness and fulfilment. How do we know that is true? We just have to follow his invitation:

Come and see.

Many have done so and not been disappointed.

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