5 May 2013
Acts 15.1-2, 22-29
Revelation 21.10-14, 22-23
A certain couple had 5 children and the dream of the parents for them was to show them as much love as possible, give them a good education which hopefully would lead to a good job and that whatever choice they made in life would leave each of them satisfied and happy. Obviously, this would be the dream of other parents too. But no matter how much the parents did to make their children happy it also depended on the desire of the children to be open to receive such love and help. In fact, one of the children, a boy did not respond positively and getting involved in drugs and drink as well as moving about with bad companions he was a very unhappy person and was even put in prison for awhile for stealing. The parents never gave up on him and were always there for him should he turn to them. They were wise enough to know they couldn’t force their love on him. The choice was his.
In the gospel today we have something similar. Jesus knows that he will die soon and that his disciples will need support after he has gone. He offers them some marvelous gifts that they will need when he goes – that the Father and Jesus will make their home in them; the Father will give them another Advocate who will teach them everything and remind them of all Jesus said; that Jesus will give them his peace which is not the peace the world offers. He will have to go away but shall return. But Jesus knows he cannot force his love, his gifts on them. Like the boy in the story they have to be open enough to receive the gifts Jesus is offering them. So in this passage he consoles them for the difficult times ahead. In promising the Advocate which is the Holy Spirit Jesus gives them/us the very best. We all know that in a court of law it is very important to have a good advocate or lawyer to plead our case so as to obtain justice.
Jesus assures us that this Spirit will teach us everything that we will need in difficult times. Even more, he will remind the disciples of all that Jesus had been teaching them. The Spirit is the interpreter of what Jesus is about. In going back to his Father Jesus did not leave them/us alone. The Spirit takes the place of Jesus, not in a physical sense but by a divine indwelling. With the Spirit’s help we will be able to discern in each subsequent age what God wants of us so as to be courageous in following Jesus and having the gift of knowing the way forward depending on the challenges of the time.
We see a practical application of this in the first reading. There was disagreement among the early disciples about what the Gentiles wishing to become Christians should be asked to do. It is a measure of the extraordinary openness of the leaders of the Jerusalem Church that what has been called the First General Council of the Church came out with a very liberal decision. These church leaders, Peter and the other apostles, were living in Jerusalem. Despite the Jewish faith and practice which they themselves had grown up with and which they still revered they decided it was not necessary for converts to the Way of Jesus to follow all the Jewish Mosaic Laws, especially all the ritual aspects of it. So pagan converts didn’t have to follow all the laws about the washing of hands, eating pork etc.
What they were asked to follow as regards the Jewish Law was kept to a minimum: ‘to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from blood, from fornication and from the meat of strangled animals’. That was all, no dietary regulations, no obligatory circumcision etc. In the situation of the time this was a revolutionary decision. When it was proclaimed, the elders of the Church used a very significant phrase: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”. They didn’t appeal to tradition alone to justify their decision but to the Spirit. They trusted the Spirit would guide them to make the correct decision.
Today’s gospel is a gospel of consolation, a gospel of encouragement. But like the boy in the story will we be open to receive all the gifts God wants to give us especially those mentioned above? Just as a container cannot be filled up with pure clean water if there are many dirty leaves, bits of wood etc in it neither can we benefit from all the gifts God wishes for us if parts of our hearts are closed off from God. For example, my heart may be partly occupied with selfishness, unforgiveness, anger, fear, undue anxiety, infidelities regarding my primary relationship, my vocation etc. It is not that God will not give us all that is possible but we can reduce our capacity to receive the Spirit by whatever in our lives is contrary to God’s will. This can fill up the space in our hearts that the Holy Spirit wants to occupy.
Let us pray often for the gift of the Holy Spirit to soften our hearts, to open our minds, to convert where necessary so God can lavish us with his love and other gifts as he so desires. Like the parents above he has even a more marvelous dream for each of us. Will we allow him to realise it in us?
“Lord Jesus, thank you for the free gift of the Holy Spirit. Help us to call often on this Holy Spirit and to trust more and more his guidance in our daily lives. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA