Readings: Acts 8:5-8,14-17; 1Peter 3:15-18; Jn 14: 15-21
Theme: ‘I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you’ (Jn 14:18)
‘Nobody’s Child’ was a popular song in the 1960’s. Sung by Hank Williams, and other singers, it tells the story of an orphan boy whom no one wants to adopt because he is blind. The refrain goes like this:
I’m nobody’s child, I’m nobody’s child
I’m like a flower just growing wild
No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smile
Nobody wants me I’m nobody’s child
For all their mawkishness, these words capture the feelings of loneliness and abandonment all of us may have experienced at some time of our lives. These were also the feelings of Jesus’ disciples when he told them that the time had come for him to return to his Father. In today’s Gospel reading from John, we see that Jesus responds to his disciples with words or comfort and assurance. A few years ago, in the light of Jesus’ consoling words, I attempted to rewrite Hank Snow’s lyric as follows:
Somebody loves you, you’re somebody’s child.
You are a flower, born of God’s smile,
I’ll never desert you, I’ll return in a while,
I’ll always be with you, for you are God’s child.
Jesus promises his disciples that he will not abandon them: ‘I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you’ (Jn 14:18). He is returning to the Father but only to be with them in a new way, through the gift of the Spirit: ‘I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Counsellor) to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive’ (Jn 14:16-17). In identifying the Spirit of God as the ‘Spirit of truth’, Jesus is highlighting an essential role of God’s Spirit in the lives of his disciples and in our lives too, namely, to be courageous truth-tellers, witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ and his gospel of love. This role of the Spirit is underlined again in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel: ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset’ (Jn 15:26-27).
As disciples of Jesus we, too, are called and empowered by God’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Spirit of Jesus, to be witnesses to the truth – the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32), the truth that enables us to live as God’s children. This is surely a calling particularly relevant in our time. We live in a world that has scant regard for truth. With the advent of digital technology, and its impact in the field of communication, the lines between fact and fiction, truth and fantasy, are becoming increasingly blurred in every sphere of life. In the field of politics, political leaders subject us to what one commentator has termed ‘a bunch of self-serving lies’. More and more, we inhabit ‘virtual worlds’ constructed by our imaginations, worlds in which we become the sole arbiters of what is true, just, wise and loving. As Pope Francis reminds us in his Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, ‘Today everything can be created, disguised and altered’ (FT 47) – surely a frightening scenario! Being witnesses to the truth of Christ in such a world is certainly challenging.
The vocation to be truth tellers has nothing in common with arrogant claims to be in possession of the full truth about God and his plans for us. Indeed, we are no more possessors of the truth, than we are possessors of God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit of truth who possesses us, and must be truth-seekers if we are ever to be truth-tellers. In the words of Bishop Claverie of Oban, Algeria, murdered by Muslim extremists in 1996: ‘No one possesses the truth, everyone is searching for it….One does not possess the truth, and I need the truth of other seekers. This is my experience with the thousands of Algerians, who existence I share and whose questions are my questions.’
We received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised and confirmed, but we may not have had a profound experience of the power of the Spirit in our lives. In this Easter season, as we continue to celebate the Resurrection of Jesus, we pray that the Spirit may be more fully present within us, so that we become truth-seeking witnesses of Christ. Through the Holy Spirit at work in us, may we become more effective instruments in the transformation of our world into ‘a new earth and a new heaven’, where all people feel at home and no one is an orphan.
I end with an Easter poem by Malcolm Guite, entitled I will be with you
Your final words fulfill your ancient name,
A promise hidden in Emmanuel,
promise that can never fade or fail:
I will be with you till the end of time;
I will be with you when you scale the height
And with you when you fall to earth again,
With you when you flourish in the light,
And with you through the shadow and the pain.
Our God with us, you leave and yet remain
Risen and hidden with us everywhere;
Hidden and flowing in the wine we share,
Broken and hidden in the growing grain.
Be with us till we know we are forgiven
Be with us here till we’re with you in heaven.
Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily for this Sunday, from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.