Church of the Nativity
May 21, 2017 The 6th Sunday of Easter
Gospel Reading: John 14: 15-21
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14: 15)
Part I: Introduction
Today's Gospel Reading is a continuation of the Gospel reading from last week. The setting is the Last Supper. Jesus is giving words of consolation to his closest friends the night before he died. In last week's reading, he said to them, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God. Have faith also in me." (John 14:1) To put it in more modern language, Jesus tells them, "Don't worry! I've got your backs!"
As today's Gospel Reading opens, Jesus says to his friends, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
Spiritual Reflection Point: Notice how Jesus links love with obeying his commandments. Bible scholars point out that, in Jesus' day, the Jewish people tended to obey the Law of Moses (Ten Commandments + other Laws) because they had to, not necessarily because they wanted to! When Jesus came, he changed the personal philosophy of his followers so they put love into the way they lived. Do you obey the Ten Commandments grudgingly, or with love? Would you rather just take whatever you want, or do you realize it's better for all, if you paid for what you want?
Then, continuing the "Do not let your hearts be troubled" theme, Jesus tells them he will ask his Father to send them an "Advocate" who will "be with them always". (John 14:16) This Advocate is a Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. (John 14:17) He assures them that he will not leave them orphans. (John 14:18) And he seems to repeat himself, saying, "Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. (John 14:21)
Spiritual Reflection Point: If you were present at the Last Supper and heard Jesus speak those words, how would you understand them? How would you expect Jesus to reveal himself after he was gone?
Part II: Trying to understand how the Father "reveals" himself
In the May 15, 2017 issue of America Magazine, Professor Michael Simone, S.J. of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry, discusses ancient Hebrew answers to the question, "Where is God?" One answer says, "God is somewhere else." Another says, "God is here with us." Over a period of centuries, Jewish people came to believe God is both "here" and "there" at the same time!
Theologians now say, "God is both immanent and transcendent." As they arrived at this belief, they wrestled with a problem. A god who is only immanent can be very small, personal, and at risk for playing favorites, and getting involved in cliques or petty issues. One group might claim that god is with them and not with a rival group. And a god who is only transcendent can seem very distant, remote, and indifferent to its creation. This sort of god might treat the world like a clock-maker who winds up the clock and then leaves it to work by itself unattended.
Spiritual Reflection Point: Notice how Jesus prays to his transcendent Father in heaven and to his Father who is very near to him. In today's Gospel Reading, Jesus is teaching his disciples how to recognize that same presence. John, the Gospel writer, links God's presence with love and following the Commandments. Jesus teaches us to use his example to bring his Father's presence into our lives. This divine presence is the Advocate and Spirit of truth in today's Gospel Reading.
Part III: Working with the Advocate
Spiritual Reflection Point: What comes to your mind when you read or hear the word "Advocate"? A helper? Someone who will take your side in a dispute? A defense attorney, mediator, or go-between? How about a comforter? (Sometimes people use the word "Paraclete".)
Spiritual Reflection Point: For the sake of a mental challenge, let's choose "comforter" as our descriptor of the "Advocate". What image comes to your mind? Is it something or someone who wraps you up for protection in a nice warm blanket? But, is that really how God has worked with people over the centuries? Really?
Spiritual Reflection Point: Or is the Comforter or Advocate someone who is like a mother bird who patiently waits until her nestlings are ready, and then gently nudges them out of the nest at the right time?
What Jesus and his Father want of us is action! God doesn't want us to sit around being comfortable at home or in church! We have an ecclesiastical mission that we are called to go out on! The Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, inspires us with confidence to go out into the world and use our gifts to continue the work begun by Jesus! The comfort is in knowing that God is with us!
Spiritual Reflection Point: Have you ever felt the Spirit nudge you out of the comfort of your "nest"?
The noted Catholic Bible Scholar Raymond Brown (1928-1998) once summed up today's Gospel Reading very eloquently. He wrote, "Love and keeping the commandments are actually two different facets of the same way of life. Love motivates the keeping of the commandments, and indeed love is the substance of Jesus' commandments." (Anchor Bible Series Commentary on the Gospel according to John)
God bless you! Have a great week! And, try to live the Ten Commandments with a Spirit of love and realize God's Spiritual presence within you by using your special gifts to help others with a Spirit of Love! Peace be with you!
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