The Gospel for this Sunday begins and ends in the same place – with obedience and love. At the beginning, Jesus says: “"If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The last verse inverts the order of this statement: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” This narrative technique which the evangelist employs frequently may seem like circular logic to us. However, when it is used in the Scriptures, it is called an “inclusio.” The best image that I can use to explain this technique to you is to refer to “bookends.” At either end of a line of books, we place a stop to keep the books from falling over. An inclusio does much the same thing in the Scriptures. It points to the beginning and to the end of a section of Scripture and insures that we understand that what is in between the bookends is the meat of the message. That “meat” is the promise of the Advocate who will come to remain with us when Jesus returns to the Father.
Jesus makes four statements about the Advocate:
1. This Advocate will come from the Father just as Jesus did.
2. The Advocate will remain with us always.
3. The Advocate will not be recognized by the world.
4. The Advocate will reveal the indwelling of the Father and the Son in the community.
These four statements answer the basic fear that the community feels when it ponders life without the presence of Jesus. They are afraid that they will be left alone, that they will be orphans. This word is chosen deliberately. While it usually refers to children who are left behind after the death of their parents, the evangelist uses the term to describe how the community feels after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. The evangelist places the word in the mouth of Jesus to both calm their fears and to reveal how Jesus will continue to live within the community even after his return to the Father. Jesus promises: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”
The Acts of the Apostles carefully outlines for us several aspects of the early Christian community. First of all, we hear that the apostles proclaimed the message that Jesus, the one who had died a cruel and humiliating death, had been raised from the dead. We read of how this message brought thousands into the community. We are also told how the community lived out their faith and where they succeeded and, yes, where they failed in being people of faith. Today’s story is one of the success stories. Philip, one of the seven Greeks who were chosen to serve the needs of the Greek widows, journeys to Samaria to bring them the Good News. Jews and Samaritans were mortal enemies so we should not be surprised that one of the newly appointed Greek members of the disciples was sent to this region. Unlike the Jewish disciples who would have been threatened and perhaps stoned before even uttering one word, this Greek disciple was able to relay the Good News to these people. After they had been baptized, Philip was able to send for Peter and John who confirmed the new converts by calling down the Spirit upon them.
This episode exemplifies what the Gospel promises. The Spirit resides in the community. The elders of the community share that Spirit with all who have come to believe in Jesus. The Samaritans are able to recognize the presence of Jesus in the community even though they were not eyewitnesses to his life and ministry. Age old enemies are reconciled through the indwelling of Jesus who is “in the Father” and in whom the Father dwells – all because of the Advocate.
Rather than being left alone, the Christian community realizes that because Jesus has sent the Spirit to be with them. They are able to continue the quest that Jesus began. The Kingdom of God which formed the heart of Jesus’ preaching is indeed in their midst because Jesus is still with them.
St. Peter urges all of us who have been baptized in the same faith to continue the work of Philip and of the apostles. Like them, we are to tell people of our faith and the reason for our hope. We are told to persuade gently and reverently. He warns us that doing what we are asked to do will no doubt result in suffering for the sake of the message – just as Jesus suffered because of his preaching. The presence of the Spirit in our midst is just as sure as it was among the early Christians. Because the Spirit is still with us, we can accomplish all that they accomplished and more. God’s promise has not evaporated with the passage of time for there is no time with God. God is eternal – a day is like a year and a year is like a day in our experience.
Jesus has promised not only to return but to remain with us as well. In the Eucharist we have a bit of both promises, for the Eucharist is both His presence in our midst as well as a foretaste of what is to come. It is an experience of Jesus in the here and now, as well as an experience of the not yet. God does not make idle promises. God has loved us and asks for our love in return. Loving God is as simple as keeping the commandments.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator