Jesus is a constant reality

  • April 18, 2008

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A) April 27 (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21)

Even while some were rejecting Jesus and persecuting the Christian movement, the message of hope was breaking out into the regions of Samaria. It is intriguing that many of the Samaritans — so at odds with their fellow Jews — were some of the first to receive the faith. The words of Jesus had a special appeal to those excluded or on the margins.

Philip’s presence in Samaria had quite an impact: not only were there many healings, but he seems to have evicted a horde of unclean spirits from their human hosts. Were so many possessed? Probably not. Many cases of “demonic possession” in the New Testament can be explained by mental or physical illness. Manifestations of rage and fear from an oppressed and powerless people also form part of the picture. But even if that were the case the cure at Philip’s hands was no less miraculous or spectacular. He had clearly given them hope and brought much peace and healing.

But this is not magic — it is the grace of God working in wonderful ways. This is even more clear in the omitted verses, in which a magician named Simon known for his dazzling “miracles” and powerful magical feats was attracted to the power that the apostles seem to wield. He even believed in Jesus, but eventually greed led him to try to bribe the apostles to give him the power to impart the spirit by the laying on of hands. His name is still with us — simony — which is the term for sinful and illicit purchase of church offices.

But the apostles are not performing tricks — they are proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. For some individuals, the gifts were about self-aggrandizement, power and gathering a following, and this problem is highlighted in I Corinthians. None of this has anything to do with the Kingdom of God or the good news of Jesus — ever. 

Sometimes reasons for hope seem rather elusive. But for a Christian, there is always a reason — the Christ who dwells in one’s heart. To be a hopeful person in our world — refusing to surrender to despair or cynicism — is an eloquent testimony that is difficult to refute. Let people ask you why you are so different — and be prepared to explain the cause of your joy and hope in a non-offensive manner. To have a clear conscience and to live a truly Christian life enables us to endure persecution and being maligned for the sake of Christ with equanimity. But there is a word of warning: be sure that the conscience is clear. Martyr status doesn’t work for those suffering mistreatment for misdeeds and wicked behaviour.

The Spirit that Jesus grants — the Advocate or Paraclete — insures that Jesus the Christ is not an historical figure of the past or someone in the distant future, but an immediate and constant reality. In the Spirit we can live our lives in eternity even in this life. But ecstatic experience is not the major reason for living in the Spirit. It is the Spirit of truth, and that alone will ensure that it will be unacceptable to the world. And small wonder: it will prove the world wrong about so many things. For instance, God is not distant, capricious or violent and many of our conceptions of God are off the mark. God is in our midst and can only be described in terms of light and love. The Spirit also tells us the truth about ourselves, exposing our own inner darkness and hypocrisy. Truth is also the personal experience of God as God really is without the many human projections and distortions. Jesus describes this in terms of a “mutual indwelling”: He dwells in the Father as well as in the individual believer, establishing a sacred connection between all believers, creation and God. But the only way that this connection is established and maintained is by means of love and putting on the mind of Christ.

Love entails a willingness to lay down one’s life for others — either figuratively or literally — and tending to the needs and happiness of others. Jesus offers us the opportunity to be God-filled people or merely religious people. The choice is ours.

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