Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020
The call to us is to realise that the Spirit of Christ resides in everyone - and in all of creation. It's not dependent on externals like going to church, being a Catholic or even a Christian, but on opening our eyes and on waking up to the Spirit's presence everywhere - despite the self-induced sleep and blindness of ‘the world.’ We are all temples. Our bodies matter- not buildings. It's simply about opening our eyes and embracing the truth that God's Spirit is like the very air we breathe. It's like Paul will later say in his Areopagus speech about the ‘Unknown God’ (Acts 17:28): Everyone lives and moves and has being in God's Spirit.
‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Despite an authoritative tone it is also very intimate. ‘If you love me…….’ is an open-ended phrase. It is echoed again in the heart-searing question posed by the risen Jesus to Simon Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ (If so, ‘feed my sheep.’). We might ask what is at stake with our next move in whatever situation we find ourselves. What could be our next move if, somewhere in the depths of our hearts, we hear Jesus say, ‘If you love me..’? As we live through this pandemic, these words causes to enter into the reality of what’s next. How do we act to protect others? How do we show our concern? Are our hearts troubled for people in our cities and towns abandoned when unable to purchase food for themselves and trapped in places where physical distancing is not possible? A further question is how our lives intersect with a world that does not accept the values of the gospel. ‘If you love me . . .’ is followed by ‘you will keep my commandments.’ How can that be achieved as are faced with people and systems that live off injustice and inequality – something that this pandemic highlights. ‘If you love me…’ invites us to draw on the Advocate whom Christ gives for strength, wisdom, and courage. It is this Spirit who continuously reveals God and God’s ways to us.
If you love me, all I’m asking is that you keep my commandments. We are asked to try to love one another if for no other reason than being loved. If we love the one who asks the question, then we need to find ways to show that love and hospitality made in his image. If we love the one who asks the question, then we will speak out when we see people mistreated even when they do not look like us. If we love the one who asks the question, then we might name the false gods that you love me, then name the false gods made of gold and silver, the systems that put profit over people, and put them behind us.
In all this, the gospel passage reminds us of God’s nearness; that we will not be left orphaned. Today’s readings combine joy and healing [Acts], hope [I Peter], relationship and solidarity between God and us, and among ourselves [John]. This solidarity becomes real in our treatment of people by expressions of love in action, in justice and peace.
The ‘advocate’, the Spirit, the one who comes alongside, will be unconditionally present to offer both comfort and courage irrespective of what church and society say about the acceptability or dignity of people. The kind of consolation offered does not wrap us in a safe cocoon. It is more like a mother bird who gives her fledglings a loving nudge to take flight. Fr Timothy Radcliffe says, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit does, thrusting us out of our ecclesiastical nest into mission.’ Living our lives of discipleship can be very messy, as Pope Francis often says. He says that each of us and every community must discern the way that Jesus points out. It involves leaving what we consider old ways of thinking and doing, and leaving our comfort zones of thought and action to reach out to the 'peripheries' [The Joy of the Gospel #20.] More recently, he again thrust us into the world that God loves: ‘Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, there will be no conversion.’ The Creed says Christ ‘descended into hell’ to rise again. Who do we descend into ‘hell’ with? Who do we help rise from their ‘death,’ however big or small? We have before us the images of Christ who daily experience more of his crucifixion than he his resurrection. Those images are made real before our eyes as we see the ‘wounds’ of people around us and overseas. Joy, unlike happiness, is found by turning outwards-toward the other and the Earth
The call to justice is perennial. It is highly political: real people living in slavery, oppressed, suffering violence, seeking liberation, peace and fairness. God is passionate about how we relate to one another whether for good or ill. Jesus shows us how to reach out to the persecuted, belittled and ostracised in the community and bring wholeness to a broken world and equality to an unequal world. The cry for peace with justice comes at us in all directions. We can be left feeling overwhelmed and discouraged when we look and listen. But beginning at the local level, Jesus says, if we love him we will love our neighbour – including the one not like us. It is not sentimental or feel good and often without gratitude. The poor and suffering may not know of our attempts to stand alongside them. Being a neighbour is a not a state of mind or disposition but the result of radical action, as we see in the story of the Good Samaritan, which shows that we need to transgress social, ethnic, political or cultural boundaries to be alongside all who are broken. It is not a matter where we stand on an issue but who we stand with, or even sit with. Philip Berrigan once said that ‘hope is where your ass is’. Who do we sit with without being certain of the response? To talk about love of the other, love of the enemy, is only worth anything when one goes over to the other and does something. This is the only way we reshape ordinary life and create a new political space.
To know what God looks like – we look into the face and heart and mind of your neighbour, the eyes of the person next to you. Any prayer for peace or justice needs to be connected with the way we act for that peace or justice. People who have acted for peace with active nonviolence often do that by putting their bodies and sometimes their lives. Change does not happen when we just ‘spare a thought’ for those who are hungry, or caught up in violence or poverty. in that space. The ‘Advocate’, the Spirit, the one who ‘stands alongside another’ is within us and is needed where peoples’ voices are silenced. It helps us discern the truth from the many sounds and voices that clamour in ears – the sounds and voices of looking after number one; where dog-eats-dog; where violence is condoned to settle conflict; where greed is fostered and consumerism fills the void within us; where ‘radio shock jocks’ can diminish us in our humanity when they call us to be less than we can be. The Advocate calls us to listen to the voices of people who want to draw attention to whatever, pains, oppresses or threatens them. It confronts those who invade or destroy our earth; it threatens those systems that promote grasping and acquisitiveness; it confronts those who make war or abuse the weak and the helpless or neglect the refugee; it challenges those who set up distinctions between themselves and others based on religion, or practices, race, sexuality or gender. It undermines the part of our lives that controls, dominates and shrinks us.
Let us move just a little closer so as to see where God’s Spirit is at work even in places we thought had long been abandoned.
Compiled by Claude Mostowik, msc
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Justice and Peace Centre
President, Pax Christ Australia
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]