Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year A

 Sixth Sunday of Easter A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Acts 17: 22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; I Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21


Religion played many roles in the ancient world: personal comfort, public ceremony and cohesion, and philosophical inquiry. Luke presents an encounter by Paul with philosophers in Athens. Paul starts with a deist argument with which any religious person might sympathize but then he proclaims that all past religious inquiry have come to fruition in the one whom God "has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

The psalmist recounts past ordeals which we can regard as tests by God. Then switching to first person singular, he testifies "what God has done for me."

The writer of I Peter moves with stunning agility between practical instruction about conduct for early believers and cosmic claims. God brought Noah safely through the flood which destroyed the whole world, so, likewise, we come through baptism into a safe place. Our status is because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by God and now reigns in heaven.

Jesus promises that he "will ask the Father" to give his followers-- bound to him in love and obedience-- "another Advocate,"  "the Spirit of truth..."  The "world" will not know or even recognize this "Spirit."  Jesus' necessary departure will not leave his followers "orphaned."  They will still "see" him.  Then, "that day," everything will fall into place: "You will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you."  John's text returns to the qualifier with which he began this section:  "They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

Remember that the occasion for this excerpt from John's gospel is the last sustained conversation Jesus had with his followers just hours before he was arrested and the whole drama of torture, execution and the announcement of his being raised from the dead rapidly unfolds.  In this same conversation, Jesus has issued a "new commandment"-- that you love one another-- and has dramatized his words by washing the feet of us followers, including the one who will betray him and the other one who will deny him.  He now turns to what will happen when he is gone.  They will still "see" him; those who love him "will be loved by my Father" and he will continue to "reveal" himself to those who love him.  They will now, finally, get the whole picture: he is "in the Father, and you in me and I in you."  And the guarantor of these promises is Jesus' promise of the advent of "another Advocate," "the Spirit of truth," who will be recognized only by those who are in this circle of Love.  Jesus, who has given so much, indeed his all, now gives another gift that keeps the giving going.  

Jean-Luce Marion writes in Prolegomena to Charity of the dynamic that Jesus set in motion with all this gift-giving and his own intimacy with the Father's gift-giving this way:  "The presence of Christ, and therefore also that of the Father, discloses itself by a gift: it can therefore be recognized only by a blessing."  Marion continues: "A presence, which gives itself by grace and identifies itself with this gift, can therefore be seen only in being received, and be received only in being blessed." (p.129)   St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about this excessive, never-ending giving in his Summa Theologica (1a.38.2):  "A gift is freely given, and expects no return,  Its reason is love.  What is first given is love; that is the first gift.  The Holy Ghost comes forth as the substance of love and Gift is his proper name." 

Now the triple gift-giving is seen (but not by the "world," Jesus has said) and those who "see" it, see themselves as blessed and become spontaneously gift-givers themselves.