Sunday 5th May – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C Lectio divina on Jn 14,23-29

The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage were spoken the last night Jesus spent with his disciples. They were words they did not easily forget. They formed part of a kind of final testament of their Master. Jesus took his leave of them with a series of recommendations. He wanted to prepare them for the time when he would not be with them. We today perceive very clearly the absence of God in our world, and these words should help us to remain faithful disciples of our Master in his absence, believing in a God who seems to hide himself more and more from us every day.

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples, 23 “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, `I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.”

I. READ: UNDERSTAND WHAT THE TEXT IS SAYING, FOCUSING ON HOW IT SAYS IT

The words of Jesus are a direct response to the question of Judas who asked why it was that Jesus revealed himself only to his disciples and not to the world (Jn 14,22). A public appearance of the long awaited Messiah would have caused fear among the enemies of the people of God and joy among the faithful (Acts 1,6). Jesus gives an indirect reply, insisting on loving obedience. Whoever loves him will keep his word (Jn 14:23), whoever does not love him, does not keep it (Jn 14,24). In other words, the success of his revelation does not depend on his being recognized by a huge number of people, but on his word being obeyed fully. His revelation is possible whenever his word is obeyed, and whoever does not accept his word is shown to be disobedient. Here he asks for more than faith – he wants his word to be put into practice, and this is what distinguishes genuine faith from a purely subjective sentiment. Only the one who obeys will enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son (Jn 14,23). There will be the expected miracles, but it is fidelity to the will of Jesus that guarantees the recognition of the presence of God among the disciples.

Before he leaves, Jesus promises the Counsellor. Sent by the Father and now called the Holy Spirit, he will have as his mission to keep alive the teaching and the memory of Jesus in the community (Jn 14,26). The presence of the Spirit in the community will make it the school of God (Is 54,13; Jer 31,3-34) and the place where Jesus is remembered. The new alliance continues to be the law interiorized, but the law is that revealed by Jesus. The Counsellor has the same origin, the Father, and the same task, the words of the Son which come from the Father (Jn 14,10.24). The exact same revelation will be given by a new Teacher. The Spirit which, like Jesus, comes from the Father, will be sent in his name, will be his representative. But the content of his teaching will always be that revealed by Jesus, the teaching of the Gospel. In this way, the work of the Spirit will not be a mere reconstruction of what has already been said, nor a repetition of what was taught by Jesus, but rather keeping alive the memory of the teaching of Jesus and making it effective. The community which receives the gift of the Spirit will have the task of remembering and living by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in his absence. In this way the community will experience his presence in a way that is real and effective.

The author closes this block of discourses by Jesus with a few words of greeting, in the form of a wish for peace. This peace was at first an expression in the community of its communion of life with God, and complete joy. Later it became a manifestation of salvation at the end of time, a joy that was certain (Is 9:6; Zac 9.10, Ez 34,25). Coming from the lips of Jesus, this greeting is more than a simple desire or invocation (Nm 6:24-26). It is a real gift that separates those who receive it from the world (Jn 14,27; 20,19.21)

The peace that Jesus gives is a gift inherited (Jn 14,27). It does not follow the logic of the peace of this world, which is the result of conquest or agreement. Precisely for this reason, the disciples should not be afraid (14,27). The world cannot give this peace and neither, therefore, can it take it away. They will be able to live without the presence of the Risen One, but not without his peace. Jesus says farewell to his disciples as he leaves them in a hostile situation, but he leaves them filled with peace and without fear. Anyone who loves Jesus knows that he is returning to the Father, to his origin and glory, in order to fulfil his obedience and bring his mission to fulfilment. Anyone who loves him is happy that he is returning to his place of origin, to his Father, who is even greater than he is (Jn 14,28).

II. MEDITATION: apply what the text says to life

As the disciples heard these words, they knew that Jesus was about to leave them, but that he would not abandon them in the world. He promised to return, he and the Father, to dwell in whoever was faithful to his word and felt himself loved by both Jesus and the Father. He promised also that during his absence they would have the assistance of the Holy Spirit: anyone who enjoys the courage and strength the Spirit gives, is no longer an orphan. Even without the consolation of the physical presence of Jesus, the disciple does not feel alone. Jesus foretold his absence and prepared his disciples for it with the promise that he would return, and the gift of his Spirit.

We are living today in a time of waiting for the Lord, but it is not a time to complain about his absence. We have his Spirit and the promise that the One who loves us will return and remain with us forever. The promise of Jesus is not only for our consolation. It implies also a challenge. The challenge is to live with his absence and not despair of his coming. We also have a responsibility which is to allow the Spirit of Jesus to be the Lord of our lives.

The task Jesus left to his disciples is to do all that he told them to do. Those who love him will do what he asks. Instead of complaining about the absence of their Lord, the disciples will obey his will and bring about what he has commanded. When they can no longer see him, they will remember his words. They will no longer be able to live with him as before, but they will still be able to do his will. Jesus wants his disciples to love him, even if they cannot see him. He asks them to keep him in mind, even when he is absent. The love that Jesus asks of us is the same love he asked of his disciples, and that is to do his will. What Jesus asked of the disciples he left behind in this world was nothing extraordinary. Even we, in our relationships with others, are not satisfied with mere words. We expect those who love us to show their love. We know that someone loves us when he does something, not just because we order him to do so, but because we desire it. Jesus is no less demanding. Like us, he desires genuine love, an authentically human love, which will pass the test of the works we have to do. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my commandments.”

Often we are satisfied that we have a good relationship with God, just because we pray well or have pious sentiments, or because we cultivate good desires or promise a change of behavior that we never quite manage to accomplish. Despite our good will which is undeniable, all this is not enough to make us feel loved by God. The fact remains, if we do not do what he wants of us, we do not feel loved and we do not experience his goodness. God the Father comes to make his home with those who do his will. If Jesus does not remain with us, it is because we do not love him enough to keep his word. It is not the one who says “Lord, Lord” who feels loved by God, but the one who does his will. It is not easy among Christians today to find someone who sees the will of God as his rule of life, and so we experience this great absence of God in our world, about which we complain so much. We remain alone. God does not make his home with us, because he does not find disciples who love him and do his will. We have no reason to be annoyed with God because we do not find him in our midst. We just need to take his last word a lot more seriously: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Only those who neglect God’s word, feel neglected by God.

When he was leaving us alone in this world, Jesus did not only leave us tasks to be done. He promised us his Spirit, the power that he had all through his life, which sustained him as he walked the roads of Israel, proclaiming the love of God. He could not stay with us, since he had to return to his Father to prepare a place for us, so he promised to leave us his Spirit, his power and his courage, his enthusiasm and wisdom. We no longer have him in person, but we have the best of what he had. He has left us but he has not abandoned us. It is hard to understand why we Christians live our faith in sadness. Is it perhaps that we do not really believe the promise of Jesus? If we have not got faith in his word, it would be better for us to give up trying to live as his disciples. If we do not appreciate him in person, there is no point in forcing ourselves. However, if we still have even a little trust in him, we should be able to rediscover our enthusiasm because we have his Spirit. His breath, the breath of God which created the world, will strengthen our efforts to be faithful. The Spirit will help us to realize that we have not yet understood God. The Spirit will remind us of all he said to us, and will help us to know that he is close to us in all our worries and all our difficulties. Anyone who decides to respond to the request of Jesus, cost what it may, can rely on the Spirit of Jesus as advocate, teacher, defender, intimate friend and inner strength.

Jesus did not leave us alone. As well as giving us his Spirit, he also gave us his peace. We may feel helpless in face of the deplorable situation of the world today. Everybody talks about peace but we are unable to bring about peace in the hearts of all, not even in our own hearts. People today have almost everything, except peace. Everything else can be bought, but not inner peace. We Christians know that we can count on the peace that Jesus gives, the only peace that fills the heart, satisfying our desires to possess, calming our fears for survival, restraining the desire for supremacy over others. And yet, we hide in fear from our contemporaries! What is it we see in our world? Have we become accustomed to the sin of Cain, with all the murder and hatred that exists in our world today? As disciples of Jesus, we should be armed with hope, and looking for new tasks to fulfil, new challenges to meet. Until peace becomes a reality, we have not carried out the mandate that Jesus gave us as he was leaving. Until there is peace, we who have received the gift of peace as our patrimony, still have work to do. While Jesus is absent, we are called to be peacemakers, men and women of peace. This is the only way we can overcome our fears and our cowardice. The loneliness we feel, and our sense of inadequacy and insignificance, will be overcome only when we enjoy the peace that Jesus has given us. Only then will we know that we have received his Spirit and that we are doing his will. If we give up on our mission to find peace in our hearts, we will add to the sense that people have that God has abandoned the world, because we are not living the way Jesus wants us to. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid,” Jesus said to his disciples. He left us his peace when he left us in the world. Preserving that peace, obeying him and living by his Spirit, is the way to keep alive his memory and the heritage he left us. We will be faithful to him if we enjoy the peace he left us, and bring his peace to those around us.

We have no right to feel abandoned by God. He has left us his Spirit and his peace. He has told us not to be afraid, and he has promised to prepare a place for us with the Father. If these are the reasons why he left us, we have no reason to complain. His apparent absence is temporary. He is busy preparing a place for us with God. Only those who love Jesus can accept his absence without despair or loss of trust in his peace. Those who love him do not feel abandoned and do not abandon this troubled world. Christians must give those who do not believe, the witness of our own personal peace and the effort we make to bring peace to their hearts. We must rediscover the courage of our faith and return to do the will of God, if others are to learn to trust the God who never abandons his people. Anyone who has the Spirit of Jesus and his gift of peace, cannot be afraid. This is the difference!