6th Sunday of Easter (Fr. Francis)
Today’s Gospel, John 14:23-29, continues the reading from the long discourse that, in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus gives at the Last Supper (John 13:13-17:26).
Throughout the discourse Jesus speaks a good deal about “going away” and “returning”.
It is important to understand that his talk of “going away” and “returning” operates on two levels. In the context of the final supper “going away” most obviously refers to Jesus’ imminent departure from this world in death, while his “return” would refer to his appearance to the disciples three days later as risen Lord.
At a more basic level, however, the “going away” of Jesus refers to his post-resurrection ascension and departure to the Father (see John 20:17), while his “return” would then refer to his return to the world at the end of time (see John 5:27). At this level of reference, the discourse addresses his physical “absence” from the community during this period. This was the time in which the community for whom the Fourth Gospel was written found themselves living. And, of course, it continues to be our own time today.
LOVE, THE SPIRIT AND PEACE
The part of the discourse appearing as today’s Gospel is sparked off by a question (v. 22) from Judas (carefully specified by the evangelist as “not the Iscariot”). He wants to know how during this time of Jesus’ physical absence the community of believers will have a sense of his presence, even though as far as the rest of the world is concerned he will be simply absent. In response to Judas’ query Jesus stresses three things: love, the Paraclete (Spirit), and peace.
First, believers who truly love Jesus have his assurance that he and the Father have made their “home” within them. This is perhaps the most beautiful and most intimate expression of the theme of divine indwelling in the Fourth Gospel. The divine “community” of mutual love constituted by Father and Son sets up house, so to speak – makes itself “at home” – within the hearts of believers and within the community as a whole. It is not just that believers should come to be at home with God; God wants to be at home with them. So, while believers will not, as the original disciples, see and hear and touch Jesus physically, faith will give them a sense of living constantly within this extraordinary “at home-ness” with God.
Second, to compensate for the loss of the teaching, guidance, and encouragement under trial that Jesus has provided for them during his earthly life, they will have the presence of the Holy Spirit, here referred to as “the Paraclete”. The description of the Spirit as “Paraclete” or “Counsellor” takes its cue from the sense of a powerful and respected friend who stands by you when you are in trouble or under accusation – the sort of person you would like to have by you in court as both attorney and character referee. For the community the Paraclete Spirit will also have a teaching and a “reminding” function. In this way, the teaching Jesus gave them during his earthly life will be kept alive and also adapted to new situations and circumstances confronting the Church.
GIFT OF PEACE
Finally, Jesus will bequeath to the community the gift of peace. This does not mean that there will never be disputes or disagreements but rather that there will be given a capacity for resolving such disputes in such a way that peace is restored or even more deeply secured.
The First Reading, from Acts 15, seems to have been included in order to provide an illustration of the post-Easter community of disciples achieving just such a resolution of conflict. It gives a truncated version of the description in Acts of a meeting of the church in Jerusalem to resolve a significant question thrown up by the highly successful mission of Barnabas and Paul to pagans (non-Jews). Before these people could be full members of the People of God did they have to become Jews first, through taking on the ritual provisions of the Mosaic Law, in particular circumcision for male converts? A compromise solution is reached: circumcision is not imposed but only three lesser requirements that will allow believers of both Jewish and pagan origin to live, eat, and associate with each other as one community in peace.
The Second Reading, from Apocalypse 21, also addresses the situation of the post-Easter community. Their existence in the great cities of the Mediterranean world under the dominion of Rome may be perilous in the extreme, their loyalty to the state constantly under challenge. But their real “citizenship” is that of the New Jerusalem, a city whose temple and light is provided by the presence of God and the Lamb. This assurance catches up, once again, the sense of divine indwelling communicated in the Gospel.
Fr. A. Francis HGN