Sunday Homily, May 17, 2020

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A by Fr. Claude Perera

First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8,14-17
Philp Converting the people of Samaria

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 66:1-7,16,20
Shout Joyfully to God, All the Earth.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
Be Ready to Defend Your Faith Convictions.

Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21
Jesus promises to Send His Spirit to his disciples.

Homily

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s Gospel, i.e. His Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper. The context is His imminent departure back to His Father. So, he must bid farewell to His disciples. Before that he has got to face the ordeal of the passion and the death. All throughout his public life, he faced rejection of which this is the climax. It is not simply throwing him out of a cliff (Lk 4:29) but throwing out of life all together. The disciples did not understand everything He said, but they felt that there was going to be a departure of some sort and an impending grave danger to his life. So, Jesus tried to console and encourage them. What was the encouragement and hope he instilled in them? It was the promise to send the Paraclete through whom the disciples will be able to live in communion with Jesus. It will be his arrival that we shall celebrate on following Sunday at Pentecost.

The word Paraclete is a verbal noun made by the combination of the two Greek words para + kalein. Para means, “beside/by the side of/along with,” while kalein is “to call.” So, it means “the one called to be beside or alongside someone.” Demosthenes gives the example of a slave summoned for help (= parakletos). Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon gives four meanings to this word. They are:

(1). One called to be on one’s side to (a). summon (Act 28:20); (b). invite (Act 28:14); (c). call for help (Mt 26:53)

(2). One speaking persistently, imploring, or begging (Act 16:9)

(3). One speaking authoritatively, exhorting, or urging (Act 27:33)

(4). One relieving sorrow or distress, comforting, cheering (up), or encouraging (2 Cor 1:4)

Note that Jesus says that he will send “another Advocate.” Then who is the first advocate? Jesus Himself is the first advocate, mediating for his disciples with the Father. Jesus contrasts His imminent departure with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus will go back to the Father, but the Holy Spirit will remain with the disciples. The word parakletos is often used in contexts of helping in a lawcourt. So, the Paraclete is one who offers the disciples a defense on behalf of Jesus.” Jews used this the word to refer to angels, prophets, and the just who will act as advocates before God’s court. So, the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ advocate before His adversaries. This idea is found also in the synoptic gospels. Think of Jesus’ advice to His followers during persecutions when they will be dragged before governors. “But when you are handed over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes,  because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.” (Mt 10:18-20 // Mk 13:11; Lk 21:15). It is the Spirit of Jesus who will defend them like their advocate.  

The other important concept behind the word Paraclete is being ‘one who consoles’ When Job’s friends tried to console him the said that they were failures because his sorrow and hurt were unfathomable (Job 16:2). In today’s gospel, we are on the last evening of Jesus’ life. It will be the darkest and the lonest night of His life. Their master would soon be betrayed into the hands of the enemies; He will submit Himself to an unjust judgment; mocked and tortured and will die; His talk about the establishment of the Kingdom will end up in smoke; their lives also are in jeopardy. Until the resurrection and Pentecost, the disciples felt sad, orphaned, desperate and frightened (Lk 24:21; Jn 20:19). At the scene of the Ascension, Jesus further assured them, “ … you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end.” (Act 1:8) After the resurrection and Pentecost, they began witnessing to Jesus. But it was then that their real ordeals commenced. Who accompanied the Early Christian community led by the Apostles during that time of trial and persecution? It was the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Comforter. Take for example the first reading of today. Philip and his team go to Samaria to proclaim Jesus and they accepted the gift of faith. You know that the Samarians were a hated lot by Jews because of their racial impurity. How outraged would have been the other Jews to see the Apostles and their followers mixing freely with Samaritans. But they were propelled and strengthened by the Spirt Paraclete who became their Advocate. With the assurance of the presence of the Spirit Advocate they had no fear.    

We need the Paraclete, the Advocate to be by our side on behalf of Jesus to be prophetic witnesses in the Church and in the world. Gospel needs to be announced to the whole creation. Many forms of social and moral evil await to be denounced by us in a prophetic spirit. It is an integral part of our baptismal vocation. It will be a tedious exercise of swimming contrary to the current. Swimming contrary to the current is a risk even to one’s very life. There were those who took such risk like Mahathma Gandhi of India, Martin Luther King of the USA, Archbishop St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Fr. Michael Rodrigo, omi of Sri Lanka. They are only a few names of those who sacrificed their lives for the Kingdom. Our vocation is not so much to die for Christ but, to live for him and with him, despite all our daily and multiple crucifixions. The Spirit of Jesus is there present with us to accompany and strengthen us.

Secondly, as we go through these ordeals, the Paraclete Spirit will give us the comfort we are most in need of. In the context of our health, personal life, family life, children, job and workplace, neighbours, and the country have own concerns. What we are facing as the human family now in terms of its history, being threated by a global pandemic is crucial and decisive. Death knocks at our doorsteps. Fear lurks in the minds of all as to who is next. Furthermore, the humanity, its value systems, modern science and technology and the security of the planet earth have their own unsolved concerns. It is going to be a frightful future. We need to be comforted, consoled, and guided by some wiser than we. For that task is there anyone more capable than the Paraclete, the comforter, who is the Spirit of Jesus to whom we can go? Let us seek his guidance in prayer, particularly, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of the Pentecost.

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