John 14:15 – 21
This Sunday, we hear a continuation from last week of Jesus’ address to the apostles at the Last Supper as presented in John’s Gospel. As you will remember from your footnotes, most scholars consider the section of 13:31 – 17:26 to be Johannine compositions, modeled on farewell discourses found in Greek and Hebrew literature of that time. As we quickly approach Pentecost – it’s only two weeks away – we hear Jesus speak of the coming of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to put yourselves in the shoes of both the disciples who were at the Last Supper and the early Christians who would have heard this message as they were struggling with persecution from their fellow Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah let alone the idea of another Advocate coming down from heaven and the Romans who had stopped believing in any gods at all – much like so many people today. Jesus’ assurance helps us just as much as it helped these early Christians.
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
If you love me…commandments: A sign of true love is keeping the commandments. This should not be seen as an indication that God’s love is conditional, but rather that true Christian love is expressed in action. Whereas we hear Jesus command his disciples to love one another just a little earlier (cf. 13:34ff), this is the first time that we hear Jesus call his disciples to love him. In fact, the only other time we hear the gospels speak of Jesus address the disciples love for him is after the resurrection when he asks John if he loves him.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
Another Advocate: The Spirit is “another advocate” because, as you will read in your footnotes, Jesus is the first advocate (paraclete). Let’s read 1 John 2:1, where Jesus is an advocate in the sense of intercessor in heaven. The Greek term derives from legal terminology for an advocate or defense attorney, and can mean spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, consoler, although no one of these terms encompasses the meaning in John. This is just another of many examples of Jesus using human terms and concepts to give us some insight into the mysteries of God (similar to speaking of God as father, shepherd, vine dresser or himself as the Good Shepherd or the vine). The Paraclete in John is a teacher, a witness to Jesus, and a prosecutor of the world, who represents the continued presence on earth of the Jesus who has returned to the Father. Here, and in v. 26, the Spirit is said to be sent by the Father in the name of the Son; in 15:26, however, Christ sends him from the Father. Western Christian tradition has spoken of the procession of the Holy Spirit as from both the Father through the Son and as from the Father and the Son (filioque – added to the Nicene Creed in the 11th century). This, among many other political and theological factors, led to the schism between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) Churches. Ironically, this tragic break in Church unity centered on differing theologies of the Spirit, who is the source of unity. The role of the Advocate is explained in 14:26; 15:26; and 16:7-14; let’s review these verses.
17 the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.
The Spirit of truth: as you will read in your footnote, this term is also used at Qumran, where it is a moral force put into a person by God, as opposed to the spirit of perversity. It is more personal in John; it will teach the realities of the new order (John 14:26), and testify to the truth (John 14:6). While it has been customary to use masculine personal pronouns in English for the Advocate, the Greek word for “spirit” is neuter, and the Greek text and manuscript variants fluctuate between masculine and neuter pronouns.
which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it: the presence of the Spirit is visible only to the eye of faith, just as the true nature of Jesus.
it remains with you: The Holy Spirit will be both in the Church and in each Christian (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). This is the origin of one of the changes in text that we experienced nine years ago when the response to the celebrant’s greeting, “The Lord be with you,” was changed from “And also with you,” to “And with your Spirit.” It is a more accurate translation of the Latin, “Et cum Spiritu tuo,” and reminds us in very clear, powerful language, that God’s spirit resides in us from the time of our baptism.
18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
I will come to you: this speaks of Jesus’ indwelling, not the parousia. The coming of the Spirit also entails the coming of the Son and the Father (cf. v. 20) because of the shared life and activity of the Trinity.
19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
you will see me: again, through the eyes of faith.
20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.
I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you: Over and over again, we hear in John’s gospel the identification of the Son with the Father and our oneness with God. God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – existed from all time in a union of perfect knowledge and love. Then, at a particular moment in time, God chose to create us so that we could join in this divine union of life and love.
21 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.”
Whoever has my commandments and observes them: as we saw in v. 15, the condition of this shared life is love and obedience to the commandments.
reveal myself to him: to the degree that a believer responds in love and obedience, God will be revealed to him. Through Jesus, we are able to be one again with God; that is the final aspect of the kerygma that we celebrate during this Easter Season.
Acts 8: 5 – 8; 14 – 17
Here, we hear what happened in the early Christian community after Stephen is stoned to death. As we mentioned last week, the account of Stephen’s death is celebrated on the day after Christmas. Astonishingly, rather than be discouraged by the death of his fellow deacon, Philip goes to Samaria, a decidedly unfriendly place for Jews, and preaches the Gospel. He also baptizes an Ethiopian – both pericopes demonstrate the spread of the Gospel under the stress of persecution and depict the acceptance of the Word by persons who were considered outcasts of Israel. And, many come to the faith. In the end of this Sunday’s account, we see a foreshadowing of Pentecost which, as I mentioned earlier, we will celebrate in just two weeks, as the apostles Peter and John give them the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands.
Now, who can tell me who is this Philip? Is he one of the apostles, named in Mt. 10:3, Mk 3:18, Lk 6:14 or one of the deacons, whom we heard just last week was one of the deacons (cf. Acts 6:5). It isn’t clear and, as you will recall, the deacons were appointed to free the apostles for spreading the Gospel, so it would be reasonable to think that this is Philip the apostle. But, because this narrative is juxtapositioned with the appointment of the deacons, most scripture scholars say that this is Philip the deacon even though he is not taking the role of a deacon but of an apostle. So, you can see that even in the early Church, the roles were not clearly defined.
5 Thus Philip went down to (the) city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.
Samaria: If you look at one of your maps, you should find the city of Samaria 30 miles north of Jerusalem. It is the capital of the region of Samaria, part of the Northern Kingdom that was absorbed into Assyria in 722BC. As you will recall, there was strong animosity between them and the Jews who considered them as apostates since they also worshiped the Canaanite gods and goddesses. Most of the Samaritans still had a cultural connection with Judaism and considered the Jewish God as one of their gods; some even believed that God was the one, true God.
6 With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
7 For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured: Like Peter and Paul, Philip was able to continue to perform the miracles that Jesus had performed. These miracles were signs of God’s kingdom coming in our midst and pointed to the fulfillment of God’s kingdom.
8 There was great joy in that city.
We won’t hear these verses – 9 – 13 – on Sunday but they relate a fascinating event so let’s examine them:
9 A man named Simon used to practice magic in the city and astounded the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great.
A man named Simon used to practice magic: (9-13,18-24) Sorcerers were well known in the ancient world. Probably the incident involving Simon and his altercation with Peter is introduced to show that the miraculous charisms possessed by members of the Christian community (Acts 8:6-7) were not to be confused with the magic of sorcerers.
10 All of them, from the least to the greatest, paid attention to him, saying, “This man is the ‘Power of God’ that is called ‘Great.'”
11 They paid attention to him because he had astounded them by his magic for a long time,
12 but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized.
13 Even Simon himself believed and, after being baptized, became devoted to Philip; and when he saw the signs and mighty deeds that were occurring, he was astounded.
14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John,
they sent them Peter and John: it appears that Philip’s missionary effort is not authorized by the institutional Church, so they send Peter and John, who, by the imposition of hands, confer the Spirit and incorporate the immature Christian community of Samaria fully into the fold. But, this distinction implied here between the reception of baptism and the reception of the Spirit has always been problematic (cf. 2:38; 10:44; 19: 5-16). This is probably a Lucan device to demonstrate that the gift of the Spirit comes through the Church, represented by the apostles.
15 who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit,
16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Here and in Acts 10:44-48 and Acts 19:1-6, Luke distinguishes between baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus and the reception of the Spirit. In each case, the Spirit is conferred through members of the Twelve (Peter and John) or their representative (Paul). This may be Luke’s way of describing the role of the church in the bestowal of the Spirit. Elsewhere in Acts, baptism and the Spirit are more closely related (Acts 1:5; 11:16).
17 Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear Jesus promise the Holy Spirit; in this reading, we hear about the Holy Spirit coming upon those who had come to believe in Jesus and had been baptized in the name of Jesus. Even today, we speak of the Holy Spirit coming to those who have been baptized but coming in its fullness in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
1 Peter 3:15 – 18
We hear again from Peter’s first letter to the Christian communities in the provinces of Asia Minor. He recommends the practice of goodness in the face of persecution and reminds the Christians of the blessing that suffering provides. This passage is better understood if we begin with 3:8; this passage includes an important paraphrasing of Psalm 34:13 -17. Let’s examine these verses in preparation for Sunday’s passage.
15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
hope: the theological virtue, not earthly hope. Here, we have yet another example of using human concepts to provide insight into the mysteries of our faith.
16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.
gentleness and reverence: Our Lord’s teachings are demanding and are best received if presented gently and with a clear awareness of where a person is in his/her spiritual journey. Remember, Jesus was always gentle and patient with everyone who honestly sought him; he was only harsh with those who were hard hearted.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
better to suffer for doing good: let’s look at the footnote for 3:13, where we read that this is the central theme of this passage. By his suffering and death, Jesus – the righteous one – saved the unrighteous, as we read in 3:18. In his resurrection, Jesus received new “life in the spirit.” He offers this new life to his followers. So, they have no reason to fear any suffering – even our Lord suffered – and in their enthusiasm and innocence, they will shame their accusers.
18 For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.
Suffered: very many ancient manuscripts and versions read “died.”
Put to death in the flesh: affirms that Jesus truly died as a human being.
Brought to life in the spirit: that is, in the new and transformed existence freed from the limitations and weaknesses of natural human life (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45).
This week’s readings demonstrate the very clear progression from belief in Jesus to proclamation of the Gospel and the ability to live in hope, even in the midst of trial and persecution. Our faith does not free us from the struggles of this life, just as Jesus’ belief in his heavenly Father did not free him from suffering and death on the cross. But, it gives us reason to live in hope and leads us to share this life of hope with those around us. This is always an important message for us – we who follow Christ – to hear but especially now as we continue to live in not only a post-Christian era but, indeed, an anti-Christian environment. We have nothing to fear because any suffering we experience allows us to share in our Lord’s suffering for our salvation and the salvation of our loved ones and death simply leads us to new, everlasting life. I invite you to reflect on this. Do you really believe it? This is, after all, a central belief of our faith and, I can testify that it leads to true peace, even in this life.