SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 8, 5-8.14-17
1Pt 3, 15-18
Jn 14, 15-21
The first reading (Acts 8, 5-8.14-17) narrates the beginning of the evangelizing mission outside Jerusalem, in Samaria, in accordance with the second part of the program marked out by the Risen Lord to the apostles at the beginning of the book (Acts 1, 8: “you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria…). The missionary expansion towards Samaria, in effect, was not programmed previously but it is the fruit of the persecution that dispersed the Christians in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 8, 1). In that event God acted mysteriously and fulfilled the word of Jesus. As in other times in the history of salvation, God realized his plans through what is incomprehensible and negative in history. Luke emphasizes it saying: “Those who had escaped went from place to place preaching the Good News” (Acts 8, 4).
Among the evangelisers who emerged after the persecution is Philip, one of the Seven (Acts 6, 5). This “went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them” (Acts 8, 5). His evangelizing work is described as “preaching of the word” and realization of “signs” (exorcisms and miracles). The people of the city –Luke comments– “attended closely to what he had to say” (v. 6). Even if it does not deal yet with “listening” to the faith, the Samaritans proved to be favourable and ready to welcome the Gospel from the beginning.
Then it says: “they had heard and saw the miracles he worked” (v. 6). The expression “hear and saw the miracles” is curious. How they can hear the miracles is not clear. There had been many explanations given about this phrase. Probably, what is desired to emphasize is the fact that the miracles made the people become more attentive to the Word. The pair of verbs “listen” – “see” is important in the biblical revelation: the signs legitimizes the word, the word interprets the signs.
In v. 7, it is enumerated in summary form the two types of miracles that already characterize the ministry of Jesus and that accompany now the preaching of the apostles: exorcisms and healings (cf. Lk 7, 21; 8, 2; 9, 1). In those who are sent, the power of the Risen Lord, who gives life and liberates men and women, is manifested. The kingdom of God continues to expand and to impose itself on the dominion of evil. The work of liberation started by Jesus continues in the post-Resurrection mission of the church. The commitment of the community of Jesus to the total liberation men and women and its service for the integral well being of the human being is not something that is added in it. It is the reason for its existence and its deepest joy (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi). This first announcement of the Gospel in Samaria, carried out by Philip, finds an immediate and joyful welcome: “As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.” (v. 8) Joy is normally a sign of man’s openness to salvation and, therefore, a characteristic feature of the experience of life and liberty that the Risen Lord gives.
The intervention of the apostles who are in Jerusalem followed then the initial mission of Philip: “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them…” (Acts 8, 14) The reason for the sending-off should not be interpreted as an attempt to highlight an eventual hierarchy of authority in Jerusalem or to keep an eye on the orthodoxy of the preaching, but, according to the ecclesiology of the book of Acts, as a desire to introduce the new ecclesial reality of Samaria within the koinonía of the only church founded on the apostles. The apostles are the foundation of the communion among the churches and the ultimate point of reference of the testimony of the Gospel of the Risen Lord.
Peter and John go down to Samaria to pray in favour of the Samaritans and to invoke the gift of the Holy Spirit on them. It is emphasized that the action of the apostles that confers the gift of the Spirit does not have any relationship with the powers of magical type, but that it is accompanied by humble prayer that asks to obtain gift God. The people of Samaria “had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). They have not had the experience of the Spirit, which they will obtain only with the prayer of Peter and John: “Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.” (v. 17) It is probable that “baptism in the name of Jesus” and “imposition of hands that imparts the Holy Spirit” are related to two essential elements that formed part of only one rite of the first church. It could be considered as two moments of the same baptismal rite, which Luke presents now in separate form to show that the Samaritans who are converted enter with full rights into the church founded on the apostles.
It aims to give emphasis to the unique and irreplaceable role of the apostles and thus the gift of the Spirit conferred through the prayer and the imposition of hands of the apostles is added to the evangelizing and baptismal work of Philip. Their intervention makes explicit the full insertion of Samaria in the ecclesial communion, in such a way that a new “Pentecost” seals the foundation of that new church (cf. Acts 19, 5-6), like what happened with that of Jerusalem at the beginning. At the end of the account, we have an officially recognized church and that forms part, with full rights, of the new messianic people on which the Spirit has descended, sign of the last days.
The second reading (1 Pt 3, 15-18) presents the sufferings of the church as similar to those of Christ: “to suffer for doing right” (v. 17). The mystery of the resurrection has revealed that Christ, “put to death in the body” is now “raised to life in the spirit” (v. 18). The Church lives of this same hope in the midst of history, fulfilling its mission without violence or imposition, but “gently and respectfully” (v. 16), ever ready to universal testimony “for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have” (v. 15).
In the gospel (Jn 14, 15-21) we hear the first promise of Jesus about the “Paraclete”. The topic of the Spirit will appear again in that which alludes to the first reading of the Acts of the Apostles. It is the first time that the Spirit Paraclete is mentioned in the Gospel of John: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete– to be with you always.” Implicitly Jesus himself presents himself as Paraclete and speaks of another who will continue his work in the disciples and whom he will send from the Father.
The Greek word parákletos (literally: “called”, from the Greek verb kaleo, “to call, intercede for”) comes from the juridical world and designates somebody who is called as defender in a tribunal, a kind of lawyer. John interprets the ministry of Jesus and of the Church as a great judgement or judicial process before the sinful world or of darkness. In this difficult process, the Church is not alone. Together with it is a defense lawyer, a Paraclete “to be with you always” (Jn 14, 16).
In John, this Paraclete is also called “the Spirit of truth” (v. 17), that is, a divine presence that is power and life (=Spirit), and that is in close relationship with the revelation of Jesus (=the Truth). A divine person destined to remain with the believers in order to give testimony to the Truth who is Jesus and to make the disciples accept and interpret it in their contact with the changing events of history (Jn 16, 13: “When he comes, however, being the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth”; cf. Jn 15, 26).
The Spirit is a concrete and powerful reality that only the believers can perceive and experience: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees him nor recognizes him; but you can recognize him because he remains with you and will be within you” (Jn 14, 17). Faith is necessary in order to accept the Spirit Paraclete. Without it, he cannot be seen or recognized. It is to the disciples to whom the promise of the divine power of the Paraclete is made, as a familiar presence in their midst and within each one: “within you” (v. 17).
Jesus is presented like a father of the family whose sons are the disciples: “I will not leave you orphaned. I will come back to you” (Jn 14, 18). It was a common way of dealing among the rabbis and their disciples. The return, of which Jesus speaks, is firstly the resurrection. Through the resurrection presence, permanent and close, the disciples will never be orphaned. After the Easter experience, in effect, “the world will no longer see me; but you see me because I live, and you will live.” (v. 19) The world will not be able to see Jesus because his life-giving presence is only experienced through faith. The disciples, on the other hand, will see Jesus again because he will continue living and will be the foundation of the new life of faith of the believers. “On that day” –in the eschatological time that the resurrection of Jesus inaugurates– “you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you” (v. 20).
The believer, that is, whoever lives in communion of love with Jesus, accepting his word and putting it into practice (v. 21a), after the image of Jesus himself, will continuously experience in his life the gratuitousness of God’s love, growing progressively in the knowledge and communion with the Father and the Son (v. 21). The text concludes presenting, therefore, a vision of discipleship and of the life of faith through love. In the new covenant, Christian life is described using those categories that dominate the biblical history and the relationship of man with God from the beginning: encounter, covenant, communion.