6th SUNDAY OF EASTER (Cycle C)

Readings:
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated 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's divine plan for mankind is revealed 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 Guidance of the Holy Spirit
The focus of this week's readings is renewal, continuity and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is God the Holy Spirit who dwells within the "new Israel" of the New Covenant Church of Jesus Christ and succeeds the "Israel of the flesh" that was the Old Covenant Church.  The Church is One, the Church is universal, and the Church is guided and renewed in holiness by the Holy Spirit.

In the First Reading, the faith community of Jewish and Gentile Christians at Antioch, Syria became embroiled in the Church's first great internal crisis that threatened to destroy the unity of the Body of Christ.  The crisis concerned what should be demanded of Gentile converts—should they be required to submit to old Covenant laws like circumcision and become Jews before becoming Christians, or has the New Covenant nullified the old rituals and commands of the Sinai Covenant with a higher Law?  In the Church's first great council, God the Holy Spirit guides St. Peter and the Magisterium in the decision that continues the unity and growth of the Church.

The Psalm Reading looks forward to the day when God's gift of salvation will be extended to all nations.  Today we, as the heirs of the New Covenant in the community of the Church, praise God for the gift of His salvation that He has not limited to one people but which, in His mercy, He extends to all peoples of all nations and ethnicities of the earth. 

In the Second Reading, the inspired writer of the Book of Revelation describes his vision of the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven.  He sees the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem descending to earth that is a symbol of the unity of the earthly and heavenly Church in one perspective.  There is no longer any need for the light of the sun or the moon.  The New Jerusalem is the Church, and she has the brilliance of the divine indwelling of God and the Lamb who is Christ the King.

In the Gospel Reading is from Jesus' Last Supper Discourse.  Jesus' message should fill us with confidence and magnify our belief.  Just as God was with Israel, dwelling in the desert Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple, we have Jesus' promise that if we love Him and keep His word, we will never be alone.  Nor should we ever be afraid, because He and the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make their dwelling place with us.

Ever faithful to her mission in the world, the universal Church of Jesus Christ constantly renews herself to remain relevant to each new generation.  She does this by reaching out and embracing each new generation, guided by the Holy Spirit, but without compromising the continuity of her teachings that have been entrusted to her by Jesus Christ.  The message is always the same, but the means of sharing the message changes over time to meet the needs of the faithful so that they too might one day share St. John's vision of the unified Church of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The First Reading Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 ~ The Council of Jerusalem
1 Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved." 2 Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters about this question.
22 The Apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole Church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.  The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers.  23 This is the letter delivered by them: "The apostles and the presbyters, your bothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings.  24 Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representative and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  27 So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: 28 'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.  If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.  Farewell.'"

This reading is a continuation of the first reading for last Sunday.  The community of the Church at Antioch, Syria founded shortly after St. Stephen's martyrdom when the disciples began to spread out from the Jerusalem community into Judea, Samaria, and the Roman province of Syria (Acts 11:19-21).  The Jerusalem church sent the disciple Barnabas to teach the Greek Gentiles of the newly formed community at Antioch, Syria, and Barnabas took Saul/Paul with him.  They taught the church at Antioch for a year. It was at Antioch that believers first called themselves "Christians" (Acts 11:22-26), and it was the Antioch community who, directed by the Holy Spirit, sent Barnabas and Paul on the mission to carry the Gospel the Gentiles in the Roman provinces of Asia Minor. It was to this vibrant, faith-filled community of Gentile converts that certain Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem came and instructed the Gentile-Christians that any who had not submitted to the rite of circumcision or to obedience to the  ritual purity laws of the Jews "cannot be saved."  We can imagine the upset this announcement caused in the church at Antioch and to Paul and Barnabas who had baptized new believers across Asia Minor into the New Covenant in Christ without insisting on them first becoming converts to Judaism.  The community decided to send Paul, Barnabas and several other leaders of the community to Jerusalem to consult with the Apostles and elders of the Church to settle the issue. 

Peter and the Apostles responded by calling the Church's first council at the mother church in Jerusalem, the community led by St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem.  After the issue was debated, St. Peter, in his role as the Vicar of Christ, addressed the council, saying that no additional burden should be placed on Gentile converts since "God who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us" (Acts 15:8).  Guided by the Holy Spirit, it was the council's decision that Gentiles can be welcomed into the Church by baptism alone and that converts do not have to be circumcised.  However, they agreed with St. James that all Gentile converts should observe some basic parts of the old Law in order to facilitate union with Jewish-Christians and to not cause scandal among prospective Jewish converts.  It was decided to send representatives of the Church back with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to deliver a letter stating that the Jewish-Christians who had caused the controversy were not acting with the authority of the Church, that baptism was sufficient, and conversion to the Old Covenant faith was not necessary.  It was the Council's decision that only a few restrictions will be placed on Gentile converts.  The prohibitions included:

  1. To abstain from eating meat sacrificed to idols.
  2. To abstain from blood including blood in the flesh of strangled animals.
  3. To abstain from unlawful marriage.

A Gentile eating meat sacrificed to idols could cause scandal among the Jewish brothers by being interpreted as a continued attachment to a false god.  Paul will later write that for him it had no meaning to eat such meat, but in order not to cause a "brother" a spiritual crisis, he would gladly abstain (1 Cor 8:1-13).  To abstain from blood in any form was a prohibition since the time of Noah (Gen 9:4) and continued into the Sinai Covenant ( Lev 3:17; 17:10-12, 14; 19:26a; Dt 12:16, 23-27; 15:23.  The penalty for violating the blood prohibition under the old law was excommunication (Lev 17:14).  The restriction on unlawful marriage probably pertained to marriages where the degree of kinship was too close, as in the case of incest.  These prohibitions are found in the Holiness Code in Leviticus 20:10-21.

The impact of the decision of the council was that the New Covenant is recognized by the Church as a continuation of the corporate covenant relationship between God and Israel that was formed at Mt. Sinai but in the sense of a profound renewal in the "new Israel" of the Church.  The New Covenant in Christ is the transformed law of the Holy Spirit within the framework of the Old Covenant but which surpasses and transforms the old and should not in any way be a hindrance to bringing Gentiles into the covenant relationship with Christ through baptism by water and the Spirit.  The Council of Jerusalem affirmed that it is the Divine Plan that the Kingdom of the Church is meant to be a worldwide family of God that includes the Gentile nations and is no longer a covenant with just one nation.  The action taken by the Church also shows that individual faith communities were not completely autonomous but were under the jurisdiction and doctrinal direction of the one Church founded by Jesus Christ.

The Church has continued to handle controversy or issues addressed to the Church in the same way, by calling the leadership of the apostolic college of bishops together to form an Ecumenical Council of the world-wide Church.  The last Ecumenical Council was Vatican II (1962-1965 AD); it was the Church's 21st such council (the Council of Jerusalem is not included in the count since it was considered a proto-council at a time before the Church was truly world-wide). 

Responsorial Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8 ~ God's Sovereignty is Over all Nations
The response is: "O God let all the nations praise you!" or "Alleluia."

2 May God be gracious to us and bless us; may God's face shine upon us.  2 So shall your rule be known upon the earth, your saving power among all the nations.
Response
5 May the nations be glad and should for joy; for you govern the peoples justly, you guide the nations upon the earth.  6 May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you!
Response
8 May God bless us still; that the ends of the earth may revere our God.

In the psalm, as in one voice, we, the heirs of the New Covenant in the community of the Church, praise God for the gift of His salvation that He has not limited to one people but which, in His mercy, He extends to all the nations of the earth.  He has extended the promised blessing made to Abraham in the spiritual renewal of Abraham's descendants, the faithful remnant of Israel who became Jesus' Apostles and disciples, so that "all the nations of the earth shall find blessing" (Gen 22:18)—and that blessing is the Gospel of salvation through Christ Jesus.  As St. Paul taught the Galatians, that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Sprit through faith (Gal 3:14).

The Second Reading Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 ~ The New Jerusalem, City of God
10 The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  11 It gleamed with the splendor of God.  Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.  12 It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.  13 There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west.  14 The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.  [...]  22 I saw no Temple in the city for its Temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.  23 The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.

The inspired writer of the Book of Revelation describes his vision of the splendor of the holy city of the New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven.  What he is seeing is in essence is the earthly and heavenly Church in one perspective.  The description is symbolic and the New Jerusalem in the vision radiates the brilliant light that is the indwelling of God and the Lamb—Jesus Christ. With the repeats of the number twelve and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles, the inspired writer describes the continuity between the old Israel and the new Israel that is the Church and the themes of both renewal and unity.

The Gospel Reading John 14:23-29 ~ Love of God is rooted in Obedience to His Divine Will
23 Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.  24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.  25 I have told you this while I am with you.  26 The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.  27 Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  28 You heard me tell you, 'I am going away and I will come back to you.'  If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.

This teaching takes place at the end of the Last Supper.  It is Jesus' final teaching to His disciples and extends from John chapter 14 to chapter 17.  In verse 22 Jesus is asked "Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?"  Jesus' reply in verse 23 seems evasive but in fact He does explain why He does not reveal Himself to the world.  In verse 23 Jesus tells His disciples: "Whoever loves me will keep my word ..."   "My word" refers to the entire Gospel message, and the "all I have told you" of verse 26 as distinguished from its separate teachings or commandments.  Jesus tells them, "and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him."  The form Jesus' manifestation takes is God the Father's will, and it is the Father's will that Jesus makes Himself known only to those who love Him and keep His commandments. 

In the Old Testament Yahweh revealed Himself to His covenant people in the Pillar of Cloud and the Pillar of Fire (Glory Cloud) on the wilderness journey (Ex 13:21-22; 14:19, 24; 33:9-10; Num 12:5; 14:14; Dt 31:15), in the fiery Theophany at Sinai in Exodus chapter 19, and when God took possession of the desert Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem in the form of the Glory Cloud, or in Hebrew, the Shekinah (Ex 40:34-38; 1 Kng 8:10-11; 2 Chr 5:13-14).  With the establishment of liturgical worship, Yahweh promised His people that He would make His "dwelling" in the presence of His covenant people: And I shall live with the Israelites and be their God, and they will know that I am Yahweh their God, who brought them out of Egypt to live among them: I, Yahweh their God (Ex 29:45 NJB).  The people did not "see" Yahweh but they did witness His presence. Centuries later in the 6th century BC, Yahweh made the promise of His presence in a future and eternal covenant centered on the Messiah: David my servant is to be their prince forever.  I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them.  I shall resettle them and make them grow; I shall set my sanctuary among them or ever.  I shall make my home above them; I shall be their God, and they will be my people.  And the nations will know that I am Yahweh the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever (Ez 37:25c-27 NJB)Jesus of Nazareth, son of David (Lk 1:32-33), fulfills this promise.

But the question is how is the dwelling with His New Covenant people that Jesus speaks of different from the Old Testament presence of Yahweh over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies of the desert Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem?  In this passage Jesus is referring to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the tabernacle of the body, which is the soul of every believer renewed by grace.  This is the promise of the New Covenant—the presence of God in each believer.  It is the prophecy made to Ezekiel in 37:26c: I shall make my sanctuary among them forever (NJB)St. Paul refers to the indwelling presence of God for those who profess faith in Jesus Christ and are baptized into new life, becoming temples of the Holy Spirit:

John 14:26 reads in the literal Greek: the Spirit the Holy whom will send the Father in my name, he you will teach all things, and will bring to remembrance your all things which I said to you (IBGE, vol. IV, page 299).  The "He" in that statement is an important pronoun.  Jesus is speaking of the third Person of the Holy Trinity.  It is theologically incorrect to speak of God the Holy Spirit as an "it".  Notice the promise Jesus makes concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In St. John's Gospel he has already mentioned the promised gift of the Holy Spirit earlier and will again on Resurrection Sunday.  In verse 26 Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will help them to remember what Jesus has taught and He will give them a deeper understanding of those teachings.  St. John wrote it was only after Jesus' Resurrection that they understood the significance of an event or the manner of how it was fulfilled in Scripture:

  1. In John 2:21-22 in the first cleansing of the Temple.
  2. In John 12:16 when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. 
  3. In John 20:9, St. John will make this statement a third time after he and Peter enter the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday.

John 14:27-31 27 Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.  Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  28 You heard me tell you, 'I am going away and I will come back to you.'  If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.

Shalom, "peace" in the Hebrew and in Aramaic, was used both as a greeting and as a farewell (see Lk 10:5 and 2 Thes 3:16).  In Hebrew this word not only means absence of conflict but also the health, wholeness, and integrity that comes from God.  In preparing for His exodus from this life (crucifixion and death), Jesus is giving a blessing to the disciples of His own personal "peace"—a supernatural "peace" that only comes from the indwelling of Christ in the soul of every believer.

The word "afraid" in verse 27 is in the Greek deiliano, meaning "cowardly fear."  It is from the same root word as the adjective used by St. Matthew for how the disciples felt in the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Matthew 8:26 (deilos).  It is the same word used by "the One sitting on the throne" in the Book of Revelation for those who deny the faith through their fear of persecution: But as for cowards (deilos), the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of very sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8)

In verse 28 Jesus says for the Father is greater than I.  But, if Jesus and the Father are one, how can the Father be greater than the Son?  Jesus is speaking of Himself in His humanity, in His limited capacity as a human being.  As the "Living Word of God," Jesus, in His divinity, has glory equal to the Father (Jn 17:5); yet He humbled Himself on our behalf and took on our humanity: Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8).  In Jesus' humanity God is greater; in His divinity the Father and Son are co-equal (Jn 8:24; 10:30), and in His essence, He and God the Father are One (Jn 1:1-3, 5:23; 6:62, 10:30; 14:9).  Also see CCC# 460-476.

Verse 29:  And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.  Jesus' words in today's Gospel reading should fill us with confidence and magnify our belief.  Just as God was with Israel, dwelling in the desert Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple, we have Jesus' promise that if we love Him and keep His word that we will never be alone nor should we ever be afraid because He and the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make their dwelling place with us.  Our very souls have become the Tabernacle of the One True God of the Ages, and we have become the heirs of the promises made to Abraham as the adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God. 

Catechism references:

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23 (CCC 117, 586)
John 14:23 (CCC 260); 14:26 (CCC 243, 244, 263, 692, 729, 1099, 2466, 2623)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013, revised 2016