May. 20, 2017

SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings- 1st: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 2nd: 1Peter 3:15-18; Gospel: Jn.14:15-21

“PENTECOST MODE ACTIVATED”

It is common these days to hear people use the slogan “mode activated” at different times. Some of those celebrating birthdays post on Facebook, “birthday mode activated”. Those preparing to travel on vacation would post, “vacation mode activated”. Those going in for exams would write “exam mode activated”, etc. The same can be said about today’s gospel. Jesus continues his lengthy farewell speech to his disciples. So, for us, it is “Pentecost mode activated”, or “ascension mode activated”. Jesus’ conversation with the disciples center mostly around the impact of his stay and the continued presence of the Holy Spirit after he returns to the Father.

Going back to the first reading, Philip and the apostles go into the Samaritan territory with the good news. By the power of Christ Lord Jesus, they perform miracles and cast out unclean spirits. One significant happening in that episode is that though the Samaritan converts received the word of God, they’re yet to receive the Holy Spirit. According to Scriptures, “Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit… Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts8:14-17). There could be different interpretations to this action by the apostles. First is that the Samaritan converts had only received the ritual baptism but not the full transformation that comes through the divine presence of the Holy Spirit. The apostles themselves already lived in the power of the Spirit, the transforming presence of Jesus. On his appearance after his resurrection, Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn.20:22). He then commissioned them to go into the world to impart the same Spirit and to grant forgiveness to believers.

My other interpretation is that this could be an act of confirmation performed by the authorities of the Church. We are aware of the bishop’s confirmation, a sacrament which transforms believers into active soldiers for Christ. Peter is the head of the apostolic college and in his capacity, leads the delegation to confirm the Samaritan converts. Philip is only one of the seven deacons selected in the last Sunday’s reading (Acts6:4-7), a Greek speaking believer. The Samaritans have some common religious practice with the Jews such as the messianic expectation and hope in God’s final reign. But being confirmed in the Spirit is a way to strengthen their faith in God. The passage tells us the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit as believers. When Paul visited Ephesus with the good news, his question to the Ephesians was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” Their response was that they were never even told of the Holy Spirit. Paul therefore prayed for them, laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (cf.Acts 19:1-7). The Holy Spirit is the principal agent of mission; he leads us to the truth.

In the gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth” (Jn.14:15-17). We need to pay attention to some of the words here. Jesus says, “another advocate”, which means there already has been a previous advocate. Sure, Jesus is the “first Advocate”, who in his humanity unites us with God. The word “advocate” is the same as “Paraclete” taken from the Greek word “Paracletos” translated to mean “one who stands beside”. The easiest way to understand this expression is to use the analogy of the coach with his players in any sporting event. Jesus was the greatest coach ever. He taught his disciples everything, ate with them, played with them, and finally washed their feet. Activating his “ascension mode” he tells them, “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you”. The physical Jesus is going back to the Father. The spiritual presence of God, the Holy Spirit will continue to be with them. Jesus taught them the truth, so the “Spirit of truth” will come to strengthen them in the truth. In this passage, John’s theology points us the unity of the Trinity as Jesus returns to his Father; “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…” (Jn.14:15).  “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father… Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him” (Jn.14:21).

A great allusion in today’s gospel is made to the commandments and love, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. He goes further to say, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him”. When Jesus explained the commandments to the Jewish teacher, this is what he said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heat, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: You must love your neighbor as yourself (Matt.22:34-40). To love God is to keep his commandments, and to keep the commandments is to love God. That’s the greatest way to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers.

Now, it’s time to activate the “Spirit” or “Pentecost” mode. Christ invites us to keep the commandments, to love God and love our neighbors. How do we receive the Holy Spirit? How do we show his presence in your life? Saint Peter refers to suffering and persecution as one way to demonstrate our maturity as Christians. Christ suffered and was put to death, again he rose in the Spirit. The Spirit gives us hope in times of suffering and pains. God does not desert us because we are suffering. He doesn’t even punish us. I met someone few days ago on her sick bed. She felt that she was going through a lot, and truly she was. After some conversations, she told me she felt she was suffering because she could have been a nun but chose to marry. But she has a lovely marriage and wonderful husband. I was blunt to tell her she’s not correct. That’s fantasy. The lady for example, is a woman of strong faith, committed to helping others and the church as well. God couldn’t punish her because she’s not a nun. We all need to recognize that both the religious life and the married life are different vocations. The important thing is to live our vocations well- love God and love human beings. Secondly, and by the way, there are nuns who are sick and suffering. Could they say they’re suffering because they refused to marry? No. So, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us grace to see suffering as means to salvation. Let us keep loving God in the vocation that we have each undertaken- marriage, priest, nun, single, etc. Let us also love our fellow human beings. That’s the best way to keep God’s commandments. In that way, God lives in us, inspires us, and guides us our Advocate, Paraclete and Coach.