Sixth SUNDAY of Easter (C) (May 5 2013)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Holy Spirit guides the Church to be faithful to Christ’s teaching

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29). It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials. Two essential points are made in this reading. In the early days of the Church’s mission to the pagans (of which we read during the past two Sundays) some Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem saying (in Antioch on the Orontes presumably) that to be saved it was necessary to be circumcised and to practice the Law of Moses. This was the direct contrary to what Paul and his mission to the gentiles had preached. A crisis had arisen. The unity of the Church, between Jew and Gentile, indicated that the situation be discussed and resolved in conjunction with the mother Church in Jerusalem. The church in Jerusalem appears as highly organized. The apostles (some at least; James brother of John had already been murdered by Herod Agrippa I, in 42 AD). There were also elders (their precise function not quite clear) and the head of this Jerusalem Christian community was James brother of the Lord, not Peter. It is implied in the reading that the apostles and elders of the Church at Jerusalem firmly endorsed Paul’s position that neither circumcision nor the Mosaic Law was to be imposed on Christian converts from paganism. The Jerusalem meeting, however, was concerned about non-Jewish concern for Jewish sensitivity, especially to make table fellowship between Jew and non-Jew all the easier. For this reason they were requested to abstain from certain things; three of them ritual, the fourth, a Greek word translated variously as “fornication”, “immorality”. It may mean sexual immorality (incest) arising from incestuous unions, marriage unions outside the Jewish law of the degrees of kindred. The four things may correspond to the matters proscribed in Leviticus 17-18 for aliens dwelling among the holy people Israel. The Jerusalem Council decision was confirmed by word of mouth and letter for the areas concerned: Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.

            The readings do not quite convey the momentous significance of that Jerusalem council (probably in the year 49 AD). What was at stake was the mission beyond Judaism to pagans, without requirement of circumcision or practice of the Jewish law. The Jewish Christians that came to Antioch believed that the Law revealed to Moses still held for converts from paganism to Christianity. At the Jerusalem meeting itself a group of Christian converts from the party of the Pharisees further stressed the point. Peter first spoke, recalling how he himself at the direction of the Holy Spirit had baptized the pagan Cornelius without requiring circumcision or deference to Judaism, an action agreed to by the Jerusalem community. James, head of the Jewish-Christian community, agreed with this. Paul’s mission and the unity of the Church had been safeguarded.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 66[67]). Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Second Reading (Apocalypse 21:10-14, 22-23), He showed me the holy city coming down from heaven. This section is immediately preceded in the Bible with the words: “Come, I will show you the Bride that the Lamb has married”. The New Jerusalem of this reading is the Church in its heavenly splendour. It has some of the themes of last Sunday’s second reading on the new heaven and the new earth. The New Jerusalem envisaged represents the future ideal union of God with humanity. The “enormous high mountain” from which John sees the vision was a traditional symbol for vision of God and union with God (Ezekiel 40:2), a site of paradise of the past (Ezekiel 28:14) and future (see Isaiah 11:9; 65:25), with which Mount Zion was symbolically identified (Psalm 47[48]:2), where the Temple, to which all people would come, would stand (Isaiah 2:2). The city’s beauty is highlighted. It also is a summation of the Old Testament (with the Twelve Patriarchs) and the New (the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb). Unlike human cities, like Babylon of old that seek to reach heaven, this city comes down from heaven from God. It will be lit by the radiant glory of God and the Lamb.

            The reading, ending the book of the Apocalypse which spoke of the victory of the Lamb and the kingdom of God, had a message of comfort, and encouragement for its first readers. It holds a message for all time, calling on humanity to expect and view even now the vision of the city of God calling on us to live in keeping with this vision, and to beware of the temptation to build a human city like the Babylon of old.

Gospel (John 14:23-29). The Holy Spirit will remind you of all I have said to you. This is a very suitable reading for this the Sunday immediately before the celebration of the Ascension of Jesus. It is part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse to his disciples before his passion and departure visibly from this world. It speaks of Jesus’ love for his disciples and for the Father and the Father’s love for them. They are all united in Jesus’ word, and in the Paraclete, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send. Great stress is laid on Jesus’ “word” or “words”. This word is much more that our meaning of the term. Jesus’ word implies union (or its absence) with him Keeping his word means keeping his commandments, the commandment to believe in him and to love one another. His word is the communication of his Father’s plan of salvation. The Paraclete (in Greek parakletos) will see that Jesus’ work continues. Many truths are conveyed in John’s Gospel by this single word. The Paraclete (Holy Spirit) is an Advocate and a witness; he also consoles the disciples. He has them remember Jesus’ work and leads them into the whole truth. In a sense the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, replaces Jesus. He establishes continuity between believers and Jesus, not merely by recalling Jesus’ words and work, but by being Jesus’ living presence. Because of this Jesus can bequeath his own peace on his disciples, a peace that will be with them in earthly trials and that cannot be taken from them. Given all this, and the new life of the Spirit to follow on Jesus’ departure to the Father, the disciples should be glad rather than sad at this parting.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The Holy Spirit guides the Church to be faithful to Christ’s teaching

A theme running through the first reading and the Gospel reading today is the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit with the Church. The Christian mission from its very beginnings to our own day has been one of developments, development in the understanding of God’s message to Israel through Moses and the Prophets and developments in the understanding of the relation of the Son with the Father. These are developments that demanded, and still demand, faith. Jesus in his own lifetime was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. After his resurrection the apostles were commanded by him to preach the Gospel to all peoples. Paul was chosen by God to be the apostle to the pagans, the gentiles, to preach salvation through faith in Jesus, without the prior requirement of the Jewish law. Jesus had left no blueprint how this was to be worked out. It had to be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We see from the first reading how this occurred.

            The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, links the church of each age with Jesus, reminding it of all Jesus has said. This does not apply just to development in doctrine, as for instance in the relation of Jesus to the Father, as God of God, begotten not made, and such like. The Holy Spirit also reminds the Church of Jesus’ love for all strata of humanity, the marginalized and all others, challenging each generation to renew itself after the model of Jesus, m devotion, in the breaking of bread (the Eucharist, the Mass) and in prayer.

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