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Sixth Sunday in Easter

May 17, 2017
Sixth Sunday in Easter
May 21, 2017
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Responsorial Psalm 66:1-3,4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
Gospel: John 14:15-21


On first reading, joy and hope appear as the threads woven throughout our Scriptures for this Sunday. We begin with a reading from Acts of the Apostles. Philip, the deacon, becomes Philip, the evangelist, who charges off to Samaria to proclaim Christ (Acts 8:6-8). So successful is his preaching ministry that the Apostles Peter and John are sent to confirm his work and to share with the new believers the gift of the Holy Spirit(Acts 8:17).

But what we don’t hear in today’s first reading is why Philip went to Samaria in the first place. Earlier in Chapter 8, we read:

On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him. 3 Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment. 4 Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:1-4).

In the face of persecution and imprisonment, Philip proclaims Christ to those in Samaria.

After the Holy Spirit fills the believers in Samaria, we have another less than inspiring story. Simon the Magician was among those baptized, but when he witnessed that the Apostles could bestow the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, Simon responds:

"Give me this power too, so that anyone upon whom I lay my hands may receive the holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money(Acts 8:19-20).

Fear of persecution and imprisonment precede our reading. Greed and wickedness follow.

The second lection is taken from the late first century letter known as 1 Peter. Here the thread of joy is joined with hope.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).

As long-suffering Cubs fans some of us know hope! But Christian hope is deeper, different, and far more challenging than a 108-year wait for the trophy. The hope of which 1 Peter speaks is the consummation of the reign of God signaled by the return of Christ. Our translation softens the metaphorical language that 1 Peter is using. The word translated as “explanation” is actually “defense” or apologia in Greek. “Reason” is a translation of the word, logos, which when paired with apologia refers to an account. Think of a person standing before their accusers in a court of law giving a statement of facts on why they adhere to an unprovable, irrational confidence in the second coming of one who had been dead.

            But the focus for 1 Peter isn’t only the hope but the endurance of suffering on hope’s account.

16but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil(1 Pet 3:16-17).

“The Chosen Sojourners in the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1) to whom 1 Peter writes are likely recent converts among the Gentiles. They now find themselves at odds with their neighbors with whom they used to participate in social and cultural events (1 Peter 4:4). As a result of their new faith, these “Sojourners” experience economic and social isolation. Surely physical persecution is on the horizon (1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:9).

In the Gospel, Jesus promises that he will not leave his disciples as orphans. The Advocate or Spirit of Truth will stand in his presence (John 14:15-16). They need only keep his commandments out of love for him. To what commandments does the Johannine Jesus refer? Clearly in John 13, Jesus states:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another(John 13:34).

But “commandments” is plural. What other commandments are Jesus’ disciples to obey? The answer is found in the narrative of the washing of the feet.  

So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? 13 You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. 14 If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. 15 I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do(John 13:12).

What Jesus has done, so also we are to do. Love and service become the commandments of the Johannine Jesus. But here’s the catch. At the foot-washing, among the disciples sits Judas.

The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, 3 fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, 4 he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist (John 13:2-4).

Jesus washes Judas’ feet, knowing full well that Judas will betray him and Peter will deny him.

These readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter are not pious platitudes recorded by our ancestors in the faith to warm our hearts and comfort us in our complacency. Our three readings stand as narrative proof of the claim made by the Letter to the Hebrews:

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword(Heb 4:12).

Our challenge is to read the Scriptures in context. In the context of its literary and historical settings, sure. But foremost in our own daily context. It is here that we are to stand between persecution and misunderstanding and proclaim Christ. It is here that we are called to share an accounting of our hope among friends and neighbors from whom we are estranged. And it is here that we are to wash the feet of our own betrayers, all the while never forgetting the thread of joy and hope woven throughout the Word of God. 

Associate Professor of New Testament Studies