A stained-glass window depicting "Christ the King and Lord of the Universe" is seen in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington, Del., May 27, 2021. CNS photo/Chaz Muth

God's Word on Sunday: We need to view world via the lens of Christ

  • May 12, 2023

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

The Samaritans fare rather well in the pages of the New Testament. Despite the fact that there was considerable antipathy between the Samaritans and the Judeans, they are often portrayed as eager and open to the words of Jesus. The tension sprang from their questionable ethnicity and theology. In the eyes of the Judeans, the ethnic purity of the Samaritans had been compromised by intermarriage with non-Jews.

Following the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., the conquering Assyrians transported inhabitants from other parts of their empire into the area of Samaria. The Samaritans maintained what they believed to be more ancient customs and their version of the Scriptures differed in some ways. But these differences were generated by humans. They were of no concern to the Holy Spirit. All that was required was open-hearted acceptance of the word, and that was freely given.

What on earth does the text mean by insisting that they had not yet received the Spirit because they had “only” been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus? Scholars have not been able to reach any satisfying conclusions, but there are two things to consider. First, ritual formulae at that time were rather fluid — many things had not been defined and standardized. Second, as we are told in John 3, the Spirit blows where it wills. Throughout the New Testament, the Spirit operates somewhat independently from baptism by water. Sometimes they went together, sometimes not. After all, in chapter 10 of Acts, the Spirit fell upon the pagan officer Cornelius and his entire household before they were even baptized.

This could be a reminder and challenge for us to not hinder the Spirit. Over the centuries, far too many people have tried to tame, channel or block the Spirit — all out of fear and a desire to control. Often the Spirit has been invoked to justify purely human desires and actions. But the Spirit has its own agenda, which is seldom ours, and a mind of its own. That is why we are so afraid.

Many of the rather vague and enigmatic phrases in Scripture contain an entire spirituality within them — if they are unpacked and applied to one’s life. What does it mean to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts? Rather than merely describing what religion we are, Christ needs to be the lens through which we view the world and other people. This same Christ is our inner spiritual compass and source of sustenance and strength, as well as the guiding and ruling principle for every thought, word and deed. In a world where hope seems to have evaporated for many, the one living in Christ is still hopeful and joyful despite their surroundings. We must always be ready to share with people the source of our peace, joy and hope. These are precious things and many — despite what they may say — yearn for them.

To many people, Jesus seems like a dim figure in the very distant past rather than a living person. How do we commune with someone so far removed from us in time? The Apostles were asking the same question and were on the verge of panic. Jesus was talking about leaving them and returning to the Father. He promised to send the Spirit of truth, which He calls the Advocate, as His continuing presence in the community. This Spirit would reside not only in the community, but also in each member. Jesus describes the “indwelling” nature of the Father and the Son — Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in the Son, united by the Spirit. But He adds something rather stunning: “and I in you.”

We are invited to share in the life of the triune God. We will not feel distance or separation from the Lord or from one another. This is entirely relational and a communion of love. If we love Jesus and obey His commandments, we will become aware of His love for us in return. We will also grow in our understanding of the divine nature. Our sense of separation from the Lord and from God the Father is of our own making. We can begin building the relationship to which Jesus invites us whenever we choose.