Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

May 14: Sixth Sunday of Easter

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Sharing the Gospel

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; 1 Pt 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21

The moment for which Jesus prepared his closest friends and disciples was fast approaching. Jesus was about to complete his mission and return to the Father. It was time that the disciples began the task of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Today’s readings address the reality of a world without Jesus’ physical presence in it. Will the disciples be able to carry on the work that Jesus began? Will the circle of believers grow? How will they handle the experience of Jesus’ absence? Will the cost of discipleship overwhelm them?

Acts offers an optimistic view of the future for the small band of disciples that Jesus commissioned to continue his work. After some initial success in Jerusalem and Judea, the community, in the person of Philip, makes a foray into Samaria. This region, located between the Jewish enclaves of Galilee and Judea, was home to people whom Jews considered their enemies.

Though the Jews and Samaritans believed in the one God as revealed in the Torah, though both claimed to be children of Abraham, though they shared language and culture, there were historical circumstances that turned Jews and Samaritans into enemies. Philip’s mission was successful.

It was a significant step in the church’s commission to take the Gospel to ends of the earth (Acts 1:18). The Gospel was able to penetrate the barriers of animosity and mistrust that made any relationship between the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem and the Samaritans unlikely.

Peter and John came from Jerusalem to cement the relationship between the Samaritan Christian community and the Jewish Christian community of Jerusalem. Maintaining this relationship was important for the first Christians.

The importance of maintaining a connection with the Christian community remains essential for an authentic Christian life. An alarming number of people identify themselves as Catholic but have little or no connection with a worshipping, witnessing, active Catholic community. We all know such people. They are members of our families. They are our friends and neighbors. They are good people, but they are without any connection to a Christian community.

It is the community that bestows and shares the Spirit that conveys Christ’s presence. It is our task to draw them into the community of faith.

Today’s second reading offers a strong dose of reality to the small but growing community of believers. Peter offers advice to those believers who may have to face difficulties because of their faith in Christ.

Fidelity to the Gospel of Christ will not always be easy and believers need to be prepared for any negative reaction on the part of those who do not share their commitment to the Gospel. After all, Christians follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who did only good yet suffered nonetheless. In the end, however, Jesus was vindicated. Though he died in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18).

Christians who persevere in the faith can look forward to the same vindication.

The Gospel reading speaks to a new experience for Jesus’ followers: Jesus’ absence. Jesus assures the disciples that he will ask the Father to send the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to them. It is through the Spirit that Jesus will remain present among those who believe.

The response of believers to the gift of the Spirit is obedience to Christ’s commandments. That is the concrete manifestation of the power of the Spirit in the lives of those who believe that Jesus came from the Father. The call to obedience frames today’s Gospel reading (John 14:15, 21d) and so signals the importance of obedience to Christ in the life of believers.

The church’s mission is to give and share the Spirit as Peter and John did when they laid hands on the Samaritan converts. The response of believers to the indwelling of the Spirit is obedience to the commands of Christ. This is not a matter of fulfilling obligations; rather, it is the response of believers to the Spirit of Jesus that they have received.

The transformation of the disciples from a frightened group huddled behind closed doors to fearless and committed missionaries who take the Gospel to the ends of the earth demonstrates the power of the Spirit in the life of all who believe.


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