CNS photo/ Anindito Mukherjee, Reuters

True followers have Jesus’ guidance

By 
  • May 14, 2014

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A) May 25 (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21)

The proclamation of the Gospel took hold in a very powerful way in Samaria. The Samaritans received the Word enthusiastically. Exorcisms, healings and miracles were the order of the day. This doesn’t make much of an impression on us now — we have heard it so many times, so what is the big deal?

In the first century it was newsworthy. “Samaritan” was a word charged with a lot of negative baggage. The Samaritans were not held in high regard by the Jews (and the Samaritans certainly returned the favour), viewing them as ethnically impure and religiously suspect. The Samaritans were indeed mixed — they were the descendants of the colonists imported by the Assyrians after 722 B.C. that had intermarried with the remaining Israelites dwelling in the land. Their temple was on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria (they did not worship in the Jerusalem temple) and their scriptural traditions were different from that of mainstream Judaism. They got a universally positive treatment in the New Testament but that might partly be due to the fact that perhaps not all members of the early Christian communities were thrilled to have them on board.

Old opinions and prejudices die hard, and throughout its history the Christian Church has struggled with similar attitudes. In the Gospel of John, the Samaritans were the first group to profess belief in Jesus (chapter 4). In Luke chapters 10 and 17, a Samaritan was the “hero” of the story. The Samaritans mentioned in the Gospels were kind, generous, grateful and open to the Word of God. If only we could all be described in similar terms. There is also a curious element in this story: the Samaritans had “only” been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. It was the laying on of hands by the apostles that conferred the gift of the Holy Spirit. At this early stage in the development of Christianity, the gift of baptism and that of the Holy Spirit were viewed as two separate events. The gift of the Spirit was seen as something dramatic and conspicuous. The theological form that religious faith takes has evolved over the last two millennia and will continue to do so.

What does it mean to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts? A good question — and one that should be reflected upon often. Basically, our faith must be much more than just ideas and beliefs in our heads. It cannot be confined to different compartments and corners of our lives. To nurture, reverence and commune with the Spirit of Christ in the deepest part of our heart and soul perhaps comes close to what the writer meant. When Christ is really sanctified within us His presence transforms us and those around us. This would be a sound reason for hope, and to have hope in our world immediately puts us in the minority. People can sense when we are truly “different” and not just putting on a show of piety.

Something similar was at work in the statement of Jesus at the Last Supper in John. In the language of the mystics, he revealed that love is the only way that we will ever know God or enable God to reveal anything to us. Love is not sentimentality, attraction or personal preference. It is the bond that unites us with Christ and with God the Father. We cannot reason, manipulate, bully or buy our way to God — we can only reach God by loving. Loving Jesus requires that we place our minds and hearts in harmony with His — that is, obey His commandments. The commandments that Jesus gave to His followers in John were direct and uncomplicated: abide in Jesus unceasingly and love one another to the utmost. Going through the motions while living in selfishness and distance from the Lord will not do. For those who keep His commandments of love, Jesus promised that He will send the “Advocate” — the Holy Spirit — to be their teacher, guide and consoler. This was to be a continual presence — true followers of Jesus will never be alone or without guidance. Jesus was searching for far more than religiously observant followers — He wanted God-filled, Spirit-guided people to remake the world.

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