6th SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle A)

Readings:
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Psalm 66:1-3a, 4-7a, 16, 20
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God reveals His divine plan for mankind in the two Testaments, and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: The Mission of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  He is distinct from the Father and the Son but one in being, coequal, and coeternal with them because, like them, He is in the fullest sense God.  Jesus promised to send Him at the Last Supper and called Him the "Paraclete" (Advocate) and "the Spirit of Truth" (Jn 14:16-16).  It is the mission of the Holy Spirit to fill and indwell every member of the Body of Christ who is in a state of grace.  He is present not only by means of the gifts of grace, which He dispenses but by His uncreated divine nature.  His indwelling is a manifestation of the love of God the Father and the love of God the Son that is appropriate to the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has the power to bind the people of God in the unity of faith through "life in the Spirit," making it possible for Christ to be present in the lives of the faithful of His Body, the Church.

The First Reading addresses the second stage in the expansion of the Church according to the command Jesus gave His disciples at His Ascension (Acts 1:8).  The first stage was the baptism of the Church in Jerusalem with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 1:4, 2:1-11). The second stage was the spread of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:5, 40).  The third stage started with the founding of the Church in Gentile lands like Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:20) and from there reaching "to the ends of the earth" (Mt 28:19-20). 

In the Responsorial Psalm, the psalmist speaks of the salvation of God's people as a unified covenant nation and as individuals.  The Psalm begins with an invitation to all the earth to proclaim the glory of the Divine Name.  Next, he mentions what God did for Israel in the Exodus liberation before turning from what God has done for Israel to what God has done for him.  Finally, he blesses God who both hears his prayers and extends His mercy to the psalmist.

In the Second Reading, St. Peter writes that God the Holy Spirit is the reason for our hope as the Church moves into the third stage of her mission to evangelize the world.  He urges the faithful to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts and to always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ... St. Peter eloquently states the mission of Christian witness that he urges the communities of the Church spread across Asia Minor to accept.  Christians must always be ready to give a defense or testimony of the Gospel which is their hope of salvation, even when confronted with persecution and suffering. 

In our Gospel Reading from Jesus' discourse at the Last Supper, He told His disciples that He would not remain visibly among them, but He would be with them through the mission of the Holy Spirit who He will send to be their Advocate, Counselor, and Defender.  Jesus identifies God the Holy Spirit as a person and not simply a force.   He refers to the Holy Spirit using the masculine pronoun "He," and uses three prepositions in the Greek text to describe the Spirit's relationship to the believer.  Jesus says, He will be "with you always," He "remains with/by you," and "will be in you," meaning dwelling within you.  Jesus assures every believer that God the Holy Spirit will be "with you" as your companion in fellowship, "by you" in His position as your advocate and counselor, and "in you" as the indwelling personal God who is your source of supernatural life.

The First Reading Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 ~ Reception of the Holy Spirit
5 Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them.  6 With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.  7 For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.  8 There was great joy in that city.  [...]  14 Now the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 

This passage takes place in the second stage of the expansion of the Church according to the command Jesus gave His disciples at His Ascension (Acts 1:8).  The first stage was the establishment of the Church in Jerusalem. The second stage was the spread of the Gospel throughout Judea and Samaria, and the third stage will start with the founding of the Church in the Gentile lands of Antioch (Syria) in Acts 11:20 and reaching "to the ends of the earth." 

It was Philip the deacon who first went to Samaria to proclaim the Gospel.  Samaria was the capital city of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel.  However, after the Assyrian conquest of Israel in the 8th century BC, the Israelite population was sent into exile.  The Assyrians brought in five Gentile groups into the territory that they renamed Samaria (2 Kngs 17:24).  At the time Philip evangelized in Samaria, the region was a Roman province north of Judea under the rule of the Roman governor whose residence was in Caesarea Maritima on the coast.  The Samaritans were not friendly with the Jews, and the Jews despised the Samaritans who they considered to be either apostate, half-breed Jews or heretical former pagans who perverted the Law of Moses.  They did not worship at the Jerusalem Temple but built a temple on Mt. Gerizim (Jn 4:20, 22; 2 Kng 17:6; 24-33).  They only accepted their revised version of the Torah of Moses as canonical Scripture (first five books of the Bible) and rejected all the other sacred texts. 

Philip is one of the seven deacons ordained by the Apostles in Acts 8:2-14.  He cannot be Philip the Apostle because Acts records that the Apostles remain in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). The people of Samaria welcomed Philip's healings and his Gospel message for they too were expecting the coming of the Messiah (Jn 4:25).  You may recall in Luke 9:51-53 that the people of a certain Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus or the disciples because they were on their way to Jerusalem.  Now that Jerusalem has rejected Jesus' emissaries and the Jerusalem Temple authorities have declared their enmity toward Christians, the Samaritans are ready to welcome them.

Acts 8:14-17 ~  Now the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, 15 who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 
In these verses, there is a distinction between baptism "in the name of Jesus" and the reception of God the Holy Spirit that completes and perfects baptism.  The same distinction is found in Acts 10:44-48 and 19:1-9.  The laying on of hands by the Apostles Peter and John on those baptized by Philip confirms the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Perhaps the problem was that the baptism by Philip was not given in the Trinitarian formula as prescribed by Christ in Matthew 28:19 or perhaps the new mission needed to be certified by the Church leadership.  St. Peter is the Church's first Vicar/Pope and will become Bishop of Rome.  St. John the Apostle will fill the office of Bishop for communities in Asia Minor.  The Church teaches that the "original minister of Confirmation is the bishop" (CCC 1312), and this is the spirit of the mission of Sts. Peter and John in Samaria.

The Church defines the difference between the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (see CCC 1315-17).  In the Sacrament of Baptism, one receives the Holy Spirit.  However, the Sacrament of Confirmation perfects baptismal grace by rooting the Christian more deeply in divine filiation (son-ship) through the Holy Spirit.  This divine filiation is accomplished by the Holy Spirit incorporating the Christian more firmly into Christ, strengthening the bond with the Church, associating the believer more closely with the Church's mission, and gives the spiritual strength to bear witness to the Christian faith through words and deeds.  Both Baptism and Confirmation "imprints a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian's soul" (CCC 1317), and it is for this reason that the Sacrament can only be received once in a person's life.

Responsorial Psalm 66:1-3a, 4-7a, 16, 20 ~ God's Mighty Works of Salvation
The response is: "Let all the earth cry out to God with joy."  Or "Alleluia."

1 Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, 2 sing praise to the glory of his name; proclaim his glorious praise.  3a Say to God, "How tremendous are your deeds! Response 4 Let all the earth worship and sing praise to you, sing praise to your name!"  5 Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of men. Response 6 He has changed the sea into dry land; through the river they passed on foot; therefore let us rejoice in him.  7a He rules by his might forever. Response 16 Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare what he has done for me.  20 Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness! Response:

In Psalm 66, the psalmist focuses attention on the salvation of God's people as a unified covenant nation and as individuals.  The Psalm begins with an invitation to all the earth to proclaim the glory of the Divine Name (verses 1-4).  With the words "Come and see" in verse 5, he invites mankind to come to faith by recognizing what mighty works God has done for the salvation of Israel. He mentions the miracle of the parting of the waters in crossing the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians (Ex 14:26-31), and His miracle in drying up the waters of the Jordan River so the covenant people could cross over into the Promised Land of Canaan in verse 6 (Josh 3:14-17).  Then, he turns from what God has done for Israel to what God has done for him (verses 16 and 20).  The invitation for all who fear offending God to "Come and hear" in verse 16 is linked to the "Come and see" of verse 5.  Finally, he blesses God who both hears his prayers and extends His mercy to the psalmist. 

It is through the Incarnation of God the Son that God the Father extends His Divine Mercy to mankind.  It is in the work of Jesus Christ that we are invited to both "come and see" and "come and hear" the mighty works of God on behalf of mankind's salvation.  Jesus has defeated sin and death and has made it possible for all who accept God's gift of salvation to cross the great void of death into the Promised Land of Heaven.  Those who both love and fear offending God will embrace the gift and will cry out with the earth in joy: "Alleluia," in Hebrew "Hallelujah": "Praise God, Yahweh!"

The Second Reading 1 Peter 3:15-18 ~ Life in the Spirit
15 Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.  Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.  17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.  18 For Christ also suffered for sins once, and righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.  Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.

St. Peter sent this letter to Christian communities located in the five provinces of Asia Minor, which included areas evangelized by St. Paul (1 Pt 1:1; Acts 16:6-7; 18:23).  He encourages Christians living in those communities to remain faithful in spite of threats of persecution and to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel of salvation.  Christians must bear witness to their hope in Christ to Gentiles who previously had no hope.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope ... This passage is one of the most frequently quoted verses from St. Peter's letter.  It eloquently states the mission of Christian witness that Peter urges the communities of the Church to accept.  Christians must always be ready to give a defense or testimony of the Gospel which is their hope of salvation, even when confronted with persecution and suffering.  The word "explanation,"  translated from the Greek word apologia, can be used in a legal sense as a "defense" of one's position as in giving one's "testimony."  It is where get the word "apologetics," the discipline of defending a position (often religious) through the systematic use of information.  Early Christian writers who defended the Christian faith against critics and gave testimony of their faith to others were called "apologists."  Is it the same word used in Luke 12:11-12 when Jesus told the disciples they would have to defend themselves to rulers/authorities.  The same word is also found in Acts 22:1 when St. Paul gave a formal defense of his belief in Jesus Christ to the Jewish Sanhedrin and in Acts 25:16 when St. Paul gave a formal defense of his Christian beliefs to the Roman governor Felix and to King Agrippa of Judea.  But in this verse, St. Peter uses the word in a more general sense "to anyone who asks you ..." 

Next St. Peter focuses on how one offers his Christian defense/testimony: 16 but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.  If you behave badly in presenting your defense, your bad conduct will reflect not only on all Christians but on Christ Himself, whereas your good conduct is credited to both Christ and His Church.

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.  18 For Christ also suffered for sins once, and righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.  Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.
By His suffering and death, Jesus Christ the righteous saved the unrighteous.  By His resurrection, He received new life in the Spirit, which He now communicates to the faithful through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In Christian Baptism, the believer dies to sin and resurrects to new life in the Spirit.  Christians do not need to fear but should rejoice in suffering for the sake of the Gospel because their hope of salvation is in Christ and their lives are sanctified by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

How many opportunities do you have during the week to present your apologia of Christ your Lord and Savior?  When those opportunities arise, follow Jesus' advice.  He told His disciples: "... do not worry about how or what your defense [apologia] will be or about what you are to say.  For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say" (Lk 12:11b-12).

The Gospel of John 14:15-21 ~ The Eternal Presence of God the Holy Spirit
Jesus said to his disciples:  15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [Paraclete/ parakletos] to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him.  But you know him, because he remains with [by] you, and will be in you.  18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.  20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.  21 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." [...] = IBGE, vol. IV, page 298.

Jesus says that our love for Him is demonstrated by our faithfulness to His commandments.  He makes this point twice in verses 15 and 21.  His commandments include everything He has taught us.  We must exhibit love in action!  St. John the Apostle writes: Children, let us live not in word or speech but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 3:18), and also, For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.  And the victory that conquers the world is our faith (1 Jn 5:3-4).

The "other" Advocate Jesus is promising to send is God the Holy Spirit who is for the first time revealed as the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  The Old Covenant people did not have the revelation of the Trinitarian nature of God.  In Hebrew, the word ruah/ruach (i.e. Gen 1:2), meaning wind, breath, air, or soul/spirit, expressed the "spirit" or "divine wind" of God.  Although the Hebrew word ruah can denote human breath (the air humans breathe and exhale to stay alive which is a sign of life, or the absence of which indicates death), the use of this word in association with Yahweh is the very breath which comes forth from the "mouth" of the Living God.  It is His living power (see Ps 33:6).  It is the "breath of God" that inspired the holy prophets, and it is given to the Davidic kings of Israel at their coronation as Yahweh's anointed (Is 11:2).  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the Hebrew word ruah is usually translated by the Greek word pneuma and used to identify the Comforter also known as the Paraclete who is God the Holy Spirit.

The word "Paraclete" is an anglicized transliteration of the Greek word parakletos.  This word is only found five times in Sacred Scripture, and only in St. John's Gospel and in St. John's First Epistle (see Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7; and 1 Jn 2:1).  The word parakletos can have various meanings.  It can mean advocate, intercessor, counselor, protector or supporter.  The literal Greek entomology is from para  = "to the side of" and kaleo = "to summon."  Therefore, the word can be interpreted to mean "to be called to someone's side in order to accompany, console, protect and defend that person." 

In this passage, Jesus says: 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [Paraclete/ parakletos] to be with you always...  In John 15:26, Jesus will continue telling the Apostles of the coming of the Holy Spirit when He says, "When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me."  Then in John 16:7c, Jesus will reassure the Apostles: "I will send him (the Holy Spirit) to you...", and after the Resurrection, the glorified Jesus, God the Son, will breathe on the Apostles in the Upper Room and will say "Receive the Holy Spirit" (see Jn 20:22).

These passages do not contradict each other.  These verses establish the procession of the Most Holy Trinity as we affirm in the Nicene Creed.  But why does Jesus speak of God the Holy Spirit as "another advocate" in John 14:16?  The Church will receive the Holy Spirit in Christ's place as Advocate, Defender, and Teacher because Jesus will ascend to Heaven to take His place with the Father.  But the Advocate the Father will send not different from Christ, rather He is another similar to Himself (see Mt 6:24).  He will send the Spirit after His Ascension in Acts chapter 2 on Pentecost Sunday when the Church will be filled and indwelled by God the Holy Spirit.

In John 14:16-17, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit the title "The Spirit of Truth."  In verse 17 John makes another Greek grammatical error that may be bad Greek but is good Christian theology.  The Greek word for wind or spirit is pneuma.  In the Greek language, the word is neuter and does not take the masculine pronoun John gives it, but this is good Christian theology.  God the Holy Spirit is a person and not simply a force.   The Greek text uses three prepositions in verses 16-17 to describe the Spirit's relationship to the believer (in bold type in the quotation):

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [Paraclete/ parakletos] to be with you always, 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him.  But you know him, because he remains with [by] you, and will be in you.  Jesus assures every believer that God the Holy Spirit will be "with you" as your companion in fellowship, "by you" in His position as your advocate and counselor, and "in you" as the indwelling personal God who is your source of supernatural life.

When Jesus ascended to the Father, He promised that the disciples would continue to have Him with them.  Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with His disciples down through the ages in the miracle of the Eucharist, in the other Sacraments of faith, and whenever we call upon Him in prayer.  Then too, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus made a promise to His disciples, saying: "And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."  This promise is for all believers as we walk in His footsteps on our journey through life.  We have His assurance that we will see Him at the end of our faith journey.  At our individual/particular judgment He will stand beside us as our Advocate (CCC 1021-22).  We can also be confident that we will be with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven, if we persevere in faith (CCC 1023, 1026).  St. Paul assured Christians: If then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him (Rom 6:8).

Catechism References:
Acts 8:14-17 (CCC 1315-17); 8:15-17 (CCC 1288)
1 Peter 3:18 (CCC 632)
John 14:16-17 (CCC 729, 2615); 14:16 (CCC 692); 14:17 (CCC 243, 687, 2466, 2671); 14:18 (CCC 788)

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014, revised 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.