focus of the day:

Bring up individual texts by left-clicking on the text links: e.g. today's first reading
Acts 15 : 1 - 2, 22 - 29
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Life in the Spirit: PEACE AND LOVE

     As the Easter cycle concludes we celebrate the feasts of Ascension and Pentecost. Today's gospel directs us to celebrate the new presence of Jesus through His Spirit. Following Jesus; keeping His word, as today's text says, is the proof of love and true discipleship.
     One of the major themes of John's gospel is that it is only possible to come to God through Jesus! Jesus is the Word; the Son; the revelation of God in our history. There's no other way to God except by "keeping His Word".

the first reading:

Hebrew Christians had visited from Judaea and had taught the non-Hebrew Christians at Antioch in Syria that circumcision was necessary. Disagreement followed a heated discussion and the matter is referred to the Jerusalem community for settlement.

Acts 15 : 1 - 2, 22 - 29

     In Luke's time the Christian community at (Syrian) Antioch had long replaced Jerusalem as the centre of eastern Christianity. When this problem arose it interrupted Paul and Barnabas' positive attitude to their work among the non-Hebrew people. According to Peter's account, Jerusalem had been satisfied and supportive (Ac.11:1-18). The problem is therefore referred back to Jerusalem in an effort to resolve a basic question about the missionary movement.
     The Christian assemblies were a new reality. Life in the Spirit of Jesus represented a new age in history. But did it actually transcend ancient exclusive traditions and Hebrew institutions; or did it merely open membership to include all-comers? A decision for the latter would mean new communities could develop among non-Hebrews. They would not need circumcision or the practice of Hebrew laws and customs. On the other hand, if the new communities were an extension of exclusive Judaism, non-Hebrews would first have to become Hebrews to be Christians. The new community would then be defined as a Hebrew religious reality - open to non-Hebrew converts.
     The church in Jerusalem invokes the holy Spirit in it's written reply, that was entrusted to the two delegates who accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Syrian Antioch, to authenticate their decision (Ac.15:28-29). The answer affirms the radical transcendence and non-exclusiveness of Christianity. The Hebrew-Christian community in Jerusalem required non-Hebrew Christian communities to avoid only those practices that appeared illicit for all Christians. This compliance was independent of their cultural and religious origins.

the response:

The speaker affirms the benefits of God's reigning. A first impression is that the speech appears to concentrate solely on the destiny of the Hebrew people alone - but then it becomes clear that God's intrusion on their behalf shows a pattern of blessing that awaits a wider world.

Psalm 67(66) : 1 - 7

     A rich harvest occasions this thanksgiving song. Because of the experience of blessing, the speaker prays that YHWH's power-for-life should be further clarified to all. The only proper response to the greatness of YHWH's blessing, is such a universal chorus of praise (v.5). While the benefits of God's reigning are affirmed, the speaker appears to concentrate on the Hebrew people's destiny. YHWH'S intrusion on their behalf reveals the pattern of blessing that awaits a wider world. All the nations are put on notice because of YHWH's move. The human imagination tends to pride and self-sufficiency. The Hebrew religious attitude acknowledges the true source of the power-for-life and blessing. It is God who brings justice, fairness and guidance for living (v,4).
     The Psalm solidifies the new ordering of well-being that permits life. The new ordering comes from YHWH's powerful praise and action. Hebrew life is not at the mercy of other hostile powers. God's secure place of well-being overrides any threats. As this community experiences the reliability of trusting in God's power for life there is the confident belief that this blessing should properly extend to everyone.

the second reading:

The first generation of Christian disciples lived in expectation of the Parousia or return of Jesus and the ending of the old world. The destruction of holy Jerusalem and the temple (AD.70) confirmed for them the imminent ending of the old world. The Seer in the Book of Revelation uses imagery derived from the old prophetic tradition, to speak of the new world in terms of the restoration of the holy City.

Revelation 21 : 10 - 14, 22 - 23

     The new reality is not only the completion of the restoration in terms of the prophetic tradition (Ezk.chs.40-48) but something greater and deeper! The description of the beauty and splendour of the new Jerusalem repeats point-by-point the promises of "the conqueror" found in the letters to the churches earlier (Rv.chs.2-3). The promises referred to the whole of the history of salvation that extends back to the origins of humanity. The Seer's vision of the new Jerusalem represents the holy city is the symbol of the reconciliation established between humanity and God. It is a sign of the eternal and definitive covenant of the new people of God. For the Seer, the new it is the continuation of the old Hebrew community (cf Rv.1:20). On the other hand it is a new community, that draws into itself and saves all people (Rv.21:22-26).
     In the prophet Ezekiel, the main emphasis had been on the restoration of the holy city's temple. For the author of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the new Temple - the perfect place of God's dwelling. Since Christ is present throughout the new community and not restricted to any particular part of it, it makes no sense to speak of a temple within the new Jerusalem. The temple is co-extensive with the new restored community which is the new Jerusalem in which the "glory of God" and the "Lamp which is the Lamb" supply light! This is the author's vision of the community arrived at in the fullness of Christ!
     The centre of this vision is the completion of the divine plan of salvation - in the coming of Jesus. With the coming of Christ the situation of humanity in its relationship with God is radically changed. Before Christ's coming the relationship is broken. Humankind does not have access to God's power-for-life. After Christ's coming the relationship has been re-established and humankind can participate in the new life! "God-with-them" characterises the new situation of the new people of God. The reigning of God is present in the community of Jesus' disciples who have a task of not obscuring or distorting God's reigning; but rather of making it more visible through their practice.

the Gospel:

Jesus continues His farewell talk to His disciples. He is understood by His disciples to be the visible presence of God among humanity - the person who establishes a new covenant with them.

John 14 : 23 - 29

     Jesus had indicated He would reveal Himself to His disciples but not to the world.  The world  meant those who cannot recognise the Spirit of truth (Jn.14:17-21). In their name, Judas (not Iscariot) asks why Jesus would limit His self-revelation to His circle of disciples. In the Hebrew tradition the Holy Spirit is the spirit of YHWH, which is the same as saying the spirit of justice and liberation. It is the spirit of YHWH that spoke through the prophets proclaiming the truth. When Jesus came, the world was full of falsehoods, myths and deceptions because it was full of injustices. Somewhere else the author identifies truth with love. Jesus' answer to Judas is that those who don't act in His Spirit (follow His commands) will not be able to understand Him.
     It is the Spirit of Jesus that will remind disciples of His practice. It is the Spirit that reminds us what is in the scriptures we comment on and which has often been forgotten! Jesus knew that His message was going to be forgotten. The holy Spirit of God, the revolutionary inspiration that exists in the world, is going to adopt the role of advocate or Paraclete, to remind disciples of Jesus' word.
     The Hebrews used to greet one another with "Shalom" and Jesus is saying farewell. He wishes harmony and happiness to disciples who imitate His practice. He wishes for them the happiness of people who are free from all oppression. Among the Hebrews shalom was understood as the enjoyment of the harmony of a united people. It was something similar to our word "communion"! It had been announced by the prophets that the Messiah would bring a permanent reigning of peace. Even animals would be at peace among themselves. All would live in harmony and humanity would be again at peace with God.
     In the Hebrew scriptures heaven is not a place outside the world. YHWH was Creator of heaven as well as the Earth. There is a saying of Jesus reported in Matthew's gospel where He affirms that the Earth is as sacred as heaven:
"Do not swear at all; either by heaven, since that is God's throne; or by Earth, since that is God's footstool" (Mt.5:34-35a NJB).
Heaven was God's throne and Earth was the platform for God's feet. Jesus doesn't say that He is going to 'heaven'. He says He is going to the Father and adds that He will be coming back from there. In the period after the resurrection, Jesus' life is the source of the disciples' life together. When life in Jesus' Spirit has been received, His followers will recognise that it is a sharing in the indwelling of the Father and Son, is practising Jesus' Word of love. The one who loves is the one who practises the Truth. Those who follow Jesus' commandment to love are assured of a new life in God's reigning.

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