Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C
First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Response: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Second Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; Gospel: John 14:23-29
Recent first readings involved us in the missionary activities of the Church at Antioch, Syria. Barnabas, Saul (Paul) and others were authorized, through the imposition of hands, to carry the word into the area of what is known today as central Turkey. Last week, they sailed back to Antioch and reported their success to the assembled church. The missionaries, who considered themselves faithful Jews, proclaimed a basic change — male circumcision was not imposed on Gentiles joining the Christian community. Word of this change spread south to Jerusalem, center of Judaism and guardian of tradition. Some representatives of the Christian community in Jerusalem came north to Antioch. They instructed the Antiochian Church that no man can be saved unless circumcised according to the law of Moses. Argumentative debates on this issue disrupted the community. They decided to send a delegation to Jerusalem to lay before the apostles and elders this critical question about initiation into the Christian community. The resulting assembly to decide this issue is known in 49 A.D. as the Council of Jerusalem.
After long debates, Peter spoke. He noted that it was not right to impose on Gentiles a burden that “neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support.” To do so would provoke God’s anger because it was now clear that salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ – no longer through certain rituals of the law of Moses. This resulted in silence, while Paul and Barnabas reported what God had done through them in their missionary journey. Then, James (not the apostle) rose to speak. He was a power among the disciples (Christians) in Jerusalem. His authority, to some extent, rested on his being a close relative of Jesus. The New Testament knows him as “the brother of the Lord.” His authority is seen by his concluding statement, “It is my judgment….” His judgment was accepted. It was decided to deliver a letter to the Christians at Antioch stating that Gentile converts should adhere only to these conditions from the Torah, the law of Moses: “to abstain from meat sacrificed to false gods, to abstain from marriage with close relatives (incest), to abstain from blood and from the meat of animals killed by strangulation.” The latter was to safeguard the Kosher-food law that animals were lawfully slain only by draining their blood. Are we still bound by these conciliar decisions? According to Mark 7:19, Jesus repealed the Kosher-food laws.
The first reading is all about the conversion of Gentiles to the faith. Thus, the verses of Psalm 67 selected for the response contain repeated prayers for their conversion. They are represented under the names, “the nations, the peoples (or all the peoples), the ends of the earth.” In chanting of these verses and the people’s response these nouns are repeated eleven times. Four times the congregation responds, “O God, let all the nations praise you.”
Last week’s second reading spoke of a new Jerusalem, coming down out of the sky. In this Sunday’s second reading, John – still in a vision – gets a bird’s eye view of the city. An angel took him “in the spirit” to a high mountain. The city gleamed with God’s splendor. It was rectangular with high walls and 12 gates — one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. The walls had 12 layers of stone as their foundation. On each layer, the names of the 12 apostles. No sun, no moon (and no street lights) – because the glory of God was its light source, and the Lamb was its lamp. Whether the temple in the old Jerusalem, destroyed in 70 A.D., should be rebuilt was debated at the time when Revelation was composed. John’s answer is, “No,” because God and the Lamb of God are the new temple. Similarly, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is the new temple (see John 2:19-21).
Just like last Sunday, the gospel takes us back to Jesus’ five-chapter Last Supper discourse in the Gospel of John. The reason for the Lectionary’s glance backward seems to have been in view of how near we were to our liturgy’s celebration of the ascension of Jesus. That gospel spoke of Jesus’ glorification, and the ascension is the supreme illustration of it. On the current Sunday, the Lectionary seems to wish to remind us of how near is our celebration of Pentecost. Therefore, today’s gospel speaks of the gift and mission of the Holy Spirit. A major topic of the Last Supper discourse is love. Thus, Jesus begins in today’s gospel reading, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will make our home with him.” Theologians call this intimate relationship “the divine indwelling.” The technical term to describe the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to each other is the Greek noun perichoresis. The verb from which this noun is derived means “to dance in a circle.” This has been described as a type of dance done at Greek weddings. There are at least three dancers moving in circles. They go faster and faster in such perfect sync with each other that, as one looks at them, they become a blur. Individual identities become part of a larger dance. The divine indwelling of which today’s gospel speaks swirls us into that divine circle. Dancing with God!
Now, our gospel’s reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples, “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The word Paraclete is a Greek technical term meaning a legal assistant, lawyer, counsellor, advocate, consoler and/or intercessor. That’s a wide-ranging job description for the Holy Spirit. One may see, in the above quote, a development from John 2:22; 7:39 and 12:16 — that the disciples would not fully understand Jesus’ teachings until after his glorification and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Jesus keeps reminding them of his imminent departure. They are not to worry, but rather be joyful that he is leaving. That might work for people who overstay their welcome, but we want Jesus to stay with us. How about, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder?” But that is not the reason Jesus gives. Instead, “because the Father is greater than I.” Meaning: that even in his limited human nature, he will enjoy the “glory I had with my Father before the world was made” (John 17:5).