Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A



Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A

First Reading: Acts 5-8, 14-17; Response: Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18; Gospel: John 14:15-21

Last Sunday’s first reading introduced us to Luke’s account of the selection of deacons. Christians seem to have inherited from Judaism a kind of social security system for widowed members of the worshipping community — a daily distribution of bread. Within this “order of widows” there were Aramaic-speaking widows. Luke refers to these widows as Hebrews. There were also Greek-speaking widows. He refers to them as Hellenists. There was obviously a language barrier, and perhaps also a racial barrier. The context of Luke’s story is a complaint from the Greek-speakers that they were being neglected. The apostles decided that they were too busy with preaching the word of God to be also “serving at tables.” The solution was the selection of seven men to oversee distribution to the Hellenist widows. They all had Greek names, so we may conclude they spoke Greek. Their mission was called, in Greek, a diakonia. Thus, the origin of the word deacon. In today’s first reading, we see one of these same deacons not just “serving at tables,” but preaching the word and doing signs (miracles) just like the apostles were doing.

Philip, one of the seven chosen by the community for food distribution, traveled north to Samaria.

There, he proclaimed Christ to crowds, who were impressed by his preaching – and perhaps more so by his healing the sick and handicapped. Word got back to Jerusalem of Philip’s success in Samaria. The community sent Peter and John to Samaria. The two apostles prayed over the new converts so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. They had been baptized in the name of Jesus, but the Holy Spirit “had not yet fallen upon any of them.” Two points seem strange to us. First, they were baptized “in the name of Jesus.” This should probably be understood as meaning by the authority derived from Jesus. Second, the newly baptized had not yet received the Holy Spirit. This is Luke’s theology and should be understood as meaning that the Holy Spirit operates only where there is unity with the apostles. Therefore, Luke writes, “The apostles laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” Thus, a biblical foundation for the sacrament of Confirmation separate from Baptism.

Psalm 66 is a hymn of joy and praise of God. The theme of joy is struck in the people’s response: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” What moves the psalmist to invite people to join him in this joyful praise? He commands them to speak to God and say, “How tremendous are your deeds.” He invites all the inhabitants of the earth, “children of Adam,” to join in. He mentions one of the foundational deeds by which the Israelites, in their flight from Egypt, were formed into a people special to God. “He has changed the sea into dry land,” — a reference to the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. “Through the river they passed on foot,” a possible reference to Joshua leading the Israelites “dry shod” across the Jordan River into the Promised Land (See Joshua 3:14-17).

The second reading takes us to the final installment of five successive readings from the First Letter of Peter. Context: the author addresses persecuted Christians. He tells them that no one can hurt them if they do what is right, that their suffering is a blessing. “Do not be afraid of them or worry about them.” As our reading begins, Peter tells them how to accomplish this boldness. “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” This is significant because Christians on trial were asked to curse Jesus and profess Caesar as Lord. Besides recognizing Jesus as Lord, the author recommends what we call apologetics — a defense of our beliefs. “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you a reason for your hope with gentleness and reverence....”

In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus, at the Last Supper, invited his disciples to have faith in him – basically to trust him. In this Sunday’s gospel, the emphasis is on love. Jesus begins, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What are these commandments in the context of Jesus’ Last Supper discourse in the Gospel of John? He gets specific only once: “This I command you, to love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We can look further in John’s gospel for clarification. Love is more effective when it is verified by action. At the Last Supper, Jesus gave an example of love verified when he, their leader and teacher, washed their feet. After completing this task, often relegated to a slave, he said to them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also must do as I have done to you.” Washing their feet was a symbol of service to each other. Immediately after commanding his disciples to love one another, Jesus notes that serving others can be complete. “Greater love than this no one has, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

For Christians, who follow Jesus’ commandment to be servants to others, he makes a promise: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete (advocate, defense lawyer, one who is called to the defense at the side of the accused, a counselor), to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth.” He is speaking of the Holy Spirit. But why does he say “another Paraclete?” John’s theology is found not only in his gospel but also in three letters attributed to John. In the First Letter of John 2:1 we find this statement: “I am writing to you so that you do not sin, but if anyone does sin, we have a Paraclete with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.” A good commentary on this statement is found in the Letter to the Hebrews 7:24-25, speaking of Jesus as our high priest, the author writes, “He holds his priesthood permanently … consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us.” In the next several sentences of our gospel reading, Jesus (or John) develops the theology of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christians pulling them into unity with both Father and Son. He closes by returning to the opening theme of love: “Whoever has my commandments and does them is the one who loves me.”