This liturgy reflects an in-between place with references to Easter, the Ascension of Jesus, and Pentecost. This year we may feel ‘in between’ in another way, some still staying in at home and all waiting for the time when we can meet at Mass again. For some spiritual writers, these moments of ‘threshold’ or ‘liminal spaces’ are opportunities for finding a new direction, new meanings, in life. Are there hints of that in today’s readings?
Acts 8:5-18, 14-17
The background to this selection: Luke, the author of Acts, has shown previous to this selection how the eager reception of the Christian message by many in Jerusalem
aroused opposition that led to the death of Stephen, the first martyr. (Chapters 6-7)
This caused a migration of the Christian community out of Jerusalem. Philip we heard of in last week’s Mass as one of the Hellenists chosen for the distribution of food. Whether he decided to go to to Samaria or was sent we are not told. He seems to be alone and now is preaching and healing as Jesus had done in his ministry. Earlier Luke had said the preaching of the word was the task of the Apostles but clearly now, others are also taking on that ministry. Some difference in authority, however, may explain why Philip was not ‘laying on hands’ for the coming of the Spirit on the Samaritans. There is a sense of the new communities being bonded together with the Jerusalem Christians when Peter and John come to pray for them. The final focus on the account of their receiving the Holy Spirit points ahead for us to the coming feast of Pentecost.
Psalm 65/66:1-7, 16, 20
The psalm response exults in Easter joy, with a special reference to ‘tremendous deeds’ which fits the healings and exorcisms of Philip.
1 Peter 3:15-18
In the reading from Acts, we heard how miracles brought people to faith in Jesus. In Peter’s letter, he focuses on another important means of evangelizing: how the lived-out daily dedication to Jesus is an example that will bring others to belief. There is also an emphasis on the potential for suffering that comes with holding to the faith – something close to Peter after the events in Jerusalem told in Acts and he himself living later under the persecution of Nero.
Martyrdom is still happening in our times for Christians in various parts of the world. It is easy to resent any form of persecution when one is innocent, so Peter reminds them that even so this is better than being guilty! The example of Jesus’ own suffering is one that inspired many martyrs.
As last week, this is another selection from the Farewell Address of Jesus which John sets at the Last Supper. We hear Jesus’ promise of the coming of the one who will replace for the disciples his physical presence as he is about to return to the Father. ‘Advocate’ comes from the Greek legal background of one who helps a person in a trial. The Greek word used is ‘Paraclete’, which can be translated in various ways. The meaning of that is discussed in detail in Raymond E. Brown’s commentary on John. He says that no one English word can capture ‘the complexity of the functions that this figure has’. He goes on to list some aspects. First, witness in defence of Jesus and a spokesman of the disciples in the context of his trial by his enemies. Also a consoler, a guide and thus a teacher and helper. In later parts of this long discourse, Jesus spells some of these aspects out. In this selection, Jesus speaks of a ‘Spirit of Truth’ while we most often use the term ‘Holy Spirit’ for this powerful presence in our lives and in the Church.
Throughout the whole of this long speech, Jesus speaks of the interrelationship of Father, Spirit and Jesus himself in various ways that differ from the more abstract ‘definition of the Trinity’ of later theologians. (One example of that is the creed from the Counsel of Nicaea that we profess at Sunday masses.) Instead Jesus describes how we may experience the presence of each ‘Person of the Trinity’ and how we are drawn into that relationship in our own lives. It is a more concrete way to approach what must remain mysterious to us –the nature of God.
Important throughout all of this part of John is the emphasis on the commandments of Jesus which he summarizes as loving God, and also loving others as Jesus himself loves them. Brown says Jesus’ commandments ‘are not simply moral precepts: they involve a whole way of life in loving union’. This is a demanding challenge when we think of the depths of the ways Jesus showed his love and forgiveness ‘to the end’, with his suffering and death before resurrection. It is the presence of the Spirit, of Jesus, and the Father in us that makes it possible for us to share that same love.
When you have time for reflection – which some have when still isolated at home – reading more of the Farewell Address is is a good preparation for the coming celebration of Pentecost. It begins at Chapter 13:31 and ends in 17, with Jesus’ prayer for all his disciples as he goes to his death.
Compiled by Joan Griffith