Graphic by David Chen

Our spiritual journey is never finished

  • May 11, 2017

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

The Samaritans were depicted in a positive light throughout the New Testament, despite the tension and negative feelings between them and mainstream Jews.

In the account of the healing the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-19, only a Samaritan returned to express gratitude. In the story of the good Samaritan, it was a Samaritan that showed compassion and mercy to the man dying by the side of the road.

Ironically, “good Samaritan” would have seemed a contradiction to many of those who heard Jesus. In chapter 4 of John, the woman at the well and then her entire village were among the first to respond to Jesus with faith.

Those excluded or on the fringes are often more open and eager than those well embedded in a tradition. We need but look at our own tradition for examples. The openness of the Samaritans continued with their eager response to the preaching of Philip in Samaria. Impressed by the displays of spiritual power enacted by Philip, they accepted the Lord Jesus.

At this point, we are confronted with a puzzle. Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem to baptize them in the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. The text informs us that they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. It appears that baptism and reception of the Spirit, at least at this stage in the development of the faith, were thought to be two separate events. Today they are treated as one event, although for many the Spirit lies somewhat dormant, hopefully called to life later. That is what we would call a spiritual awakening.

Our own spiritual journey is never finished and we can never be said to have “arrived” spiritually. God always has something more for us, so we must always be on the move. When one ceases to learn, grow and change, one dies spiritually. Unfortunately, this is more common than we would care to admit.

The author of 1 Peter has similar words for us. Accepting the word of God and proclaiming Jesus as Lord is far more than joining a religion. Overly zealous, aggressive ranting or even lots of “God talk” mean absolutely nothing in themselves. We are asked to “sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts.”

This means that the presence of Christ must be nurtured in our hearts by tending our words, thoughts and deeds, ensuring that they all reflect the Lord. By allowing it to transform us from within, we will radiate the peace and joy of the Risen Lord in a way that is gentle and persuasive. When we are asked why we are hopeful or joyful, we will know how to respond. This is the most effective proclamation of the Gospel — a transformed life.

As Jesus prepared to depart from this world, He reassured His distressed disciples they would not be bereft of His presence. He would send them another Advocate, which is one translation of Paraclete. It can also be translated as Comforter or Consoler.

Perhaps the Spirit fulfils all three of those roles. This Spirit would dwell or abide within them forever. It was to be given to all who follow Jesus, but with one important — and often overlooked — condition. In order to receive the Advocate, one has to obey the commandments of Jesus.

These commandments are simple (not easy): believe in Him completely as the one sent by God and practise compassionate love at all times. No faith and no love equals no abiding Spirit.

There are a couple of very important takeaways in this passage. The Advocate is the Spirit of truth and, as such, the world wants nothing to do with it. Anything that fits too comfortably with the world is not the Spirit, for the Spirit challenges us constantly and does not tolerate lies or ignorance.

Jesus assured them not only of the Spirit’s dwelling within them, but God’s continual love. Deep within the heart is a holy sanctuary in which God the Father dwells, along with Jesus and the Spirit.

The question is often asked, especially when confronted with the world’s darkness, suffering and evil, “Where is God?” God is within us, where God has always been, and it is through love that God is revealed to us.