Holy Spirit



Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C

Year of Luke

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A reading from the Acts of the Apostles          15:1-2. 22-29


Responsorial Psalm                   Psalm 67:2-3. 5-6. 8. R/. v.4


A reading from the book of the Apocalypse 21:10-14. 22-23  


A reading from the holy Gospel according to John  14:23-29

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Christian understanding of the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament, is, to say the least, problematical.  Superficially, there is a vague notion that Jesus came “to fulfil the Scriptures”. The names of some of the greatest of the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, are known but the books that bear their names are unread by Christians. The New Testament provides a context within which readers and hearers are invited to understand the who and the why of Jesus of Nazareth. Frequently the prophets of Israel are quoted to confirm that Jesus lived and died “according to the Scriptures”.   Christians are taught, if they are taught at all, that though Jesus fulfilled what the prophets of old predicted, the Jerusalem authorities connived with the Roman power in Jerusalem to have Jesus crucified. The crucifixion was a horrendous crime and Christians, or at least some of them who are familiar with the Gospel according to St Luke, take comfort from the words of the dying figure on the cross:


Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34


   It is clear that God vindicated all that Jesus said and did by raising him from among the dead.  Jesus was and is who he claimed to be, the Messiah of God, or, as we translate the word, the Christ. All that happened was in accord with what God intended when the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.  Christian understanding of humanity’s place before God is true to the facts and the ancient creeds proclaimed by most Christian churches reflect a faith that is true and that conveys to the world what God intended.



   The Christian Story


The Christian narrative begins with Adam and Eve and their original sin that enveloped all humanity.  But God set about rescuing humanity from the dire consequences of the sin of “our first parents”. God prepared the people of Israel for future salvation. God’s holy people often strayed from the way God set for them.  However, in the fullness of time a Saviour came, God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, as the prophet Isaiah, it is claimed, foretold. Through a life of obedience to God’s every word, even to death on a cross, salvation was won for all who walk this earth.  The Jesus movement, under the good guidance of the Holy Spirit, morphed into the Church. Its mission was and is to proclaim the gospel of God so gloriously brought to earth by Jesus the Messiah of God. In the fullness of time, Christ Jesus will come again to lead humanity to its ultimate destiny.


   So Christians read the Bible as a four part symphony:  the Fall, the Restoration by Jesus, the Proclamation of the churches in the power of the Holy Spirit, and, finally, the Second Coming, when Jesus returns the lead creation into an eternal future.

   The Jewish Story


This is not how Jewish people read the very same pages that Christians read.  For Jews, Adam and Eve are of little importance. The real story does not begin in a Garden.  It begins on the road. The story of Abraham leaving his own land to journey as God directed is the true beginning.  It is a story of a travelling people who eventually are led by God from slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey.  There are given a land in which to prosper. They are given a way of life, the Torah, the Law that identifies them as God’s people, distinct from all others, a people who know God and are known by God.


   The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—are the lifeblood of Jewish holiness.  Most of the readings in the synagogue liturgy are taken from the Torah, as the first five books are collectively called. Not the Prophets, not the Psalms, not the Wisdom Books.  Of course, all other books are important but it is the Pentateuch (a Greek designation that means “five scrolls”) that is the central of Jewish faith and of most concern to its scholars.


   The calling of Abraham to go on a journey is a metaphor for the vocation of God’s people.  They are to journey through this world living in righteousness and practising God’s justice.  By living holiness they will be a light to the nations. There is little belief in a world to come:

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,

But the earth he has given to the children of man.

Psalm 115:16


The dead do not praise the Lord,

nor do any who go down into silence.

But we will bless the Lord,

from this time forth to all generations.

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 115:17-18


The place where God’s steadfast love and compassion are experienced is the land of the living:


I will walk before the Lord

in the land of the living.

Psalm 116:9


Everything is summed up in one phrase:


I will be your God and you will be my people.


God’s purpose is that this people make their way through the world walking with their God.  The prophet Micah asks,


With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

                                                                            Micah 6:6


Speaking for God the prophet answers his question:


He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God.

                                                                            Micah 6:8


The Book of Deuteronomy puts the matter in a few sentences:


For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations …                                               Deuteronomy 7:6-9




It is clear that Jews and Christians interpret the Hebrew Bible differently. Christians put great store by the prophets.  Jews do not. Christians claim that the prophets of Hebrew Bible clearly foretell the coming of the Messiah. Consider this paragraph from the Gospel of St Matthew and note the quotation from the prophet Micah with which the passage ends (Micah 5:2):


Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him,

“In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel’”.           

     Matthew 2:1-6


Matthew, through the mouths of the Magi, proclaims the child to be born King of the Jews, one to be worshipped.  Then the troubled Herod consults religious authorities and the chief priests and the scribes of the people point to a text from the prophet Micah. But no Jewish interpreter would agree with Matthew’s understanding of Micah’s text.


   A Jewish interpreter would say that the one to be born is another King David who saved the people from the Philistines and other enemies.  Micah speaks of another anointed king who will save the people from the Assyrians and shepherd the people to safety. After all the text goes on to say that the child to be born in Bethlehem of Judah will “afford safety should Assyria invade our land” (Micah 5:4).  This mighty warrior king “will shepherd Assyria’s land with swords” (Micah 5:5).


   Can we reconcile a Jewish reading of their Hebrew Bible and a Christian reading of the very same Bible?  Watch this space.

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles          15:1-2. 22-29


Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.


    Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.                                               The word of the Lord.


The Acts of the Apostles provides a very diplomatic version of what happened.  Paul’s letter to the Christian house-churches in Galatia does not pull any punches.  Peter at first had eaten with Christians who were not obliged to accept circumcision, dietary laws, and other specifically Jewish identity markers when they were baptised.  But he soon turned to the rigorous Jewish Christians who insisted that to become a Christian one had first to become a Jew. It is important to realise that Paul wrote his letter in the early fifties.  Luke wrote toward the end of the century in a very different climate. To prepare for the reading from Luke’s Acts it is imperative that one does not forget the sequence of events as Paul records them. According to Galatians Paul, along with Barnabas and Titus (a Gentile whom Paul had brought into the Jesus movement without imposing circumcision) went to Jerusalem.   There before James, Cephas (Peter), and John he explained that God had entrusted him with the mission to the Gentiles “just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:7). Everyone agreed with this:


… when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.                                                    Galatians 2:9-10


It is what happened next, that made Paul incandescent with rage:


But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?                                        Galatians 2:11-14


One outcome of this disgraceful backsliding by Peter was that Paul never went back to Antioch again.

   By the time Luke wrote, as we shall see, times had changed drastically and his account differs significantly from that of Paul.  He says nothing of the agreement that Paul reached about the division of labour that had been agreed. Nor does Paul give to credit James, the leader of the Jerusalem churches, as the broker of peace, as Luke does.  The reading from Luke today disguises the trouble Paul had in saving the gospel of God from the stranglehold some conservatives sought to impose on it. Paul won the day:


For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.           Galatians 5:1


That might very well be a slogan for our time and our place.

Responsorial Psalm                   Psalm 67:2-3. 5-6. 8. R/. v.4


R/.    Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!


May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us,

that your way may be known on earth,

            your saving power among all nations.           R/.


Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,

for you judge the peoples with justice.

With righteousness you rule the peoples

              and guide the nations of the earth.              R/.


Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!

God, our God, shall bless us.

 Let all the ends of the earth fear him.        


R/.    Let the peoples praise you, O God;

let all the peoples praise you!


The word “earth” occurs in each of the three stanzas quoted in today’s Responsorial Psalm.  All told, the full psalm mentions the “earth” four times. The word “nations” occurs three times.  The word “peoples” occurs five times. The word “all” occurs four times. The verb “to bless” occurs three times.


   While word counts may not always be significant, in this case the meaning jumps of the page.  What is clear is that God’s blessing is not confined to one people. God’s blessings are showered on all peoples, on every nation under the sun, and, indeed, on the whole of the earth.  If God is gracious to one people it is so that all peoples may see God’s goodness and understand that all are blessed. If Israel is to be a light to the nations, it is God who touches the wick.  If those who sing the song in churches this morning are to be alight to the people beyond the church doors, it is because God has blessed those within. A blessing must always be shared, always passed on, especially to those in most need of God’s blessing.   

A reading from the book of the Apocalypse 21:10-14. 22-23  


Then came one of the seven angels …  who carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.


    And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.


The New Jerusalem, “the holy city of God” is not a replica of the earthly city.  The writer of the Apocalypse turned to the prophets of Israel for inspiration:


O afflicted one, storm- tossed and not comforted,

behold, I will set your stones in antimony,

and lay your foundations with sapphires.

I will make your pinnacles of agate,

your gates of carbuncles,

and all your wall of precious stones.

All your children shall be taught by the Lord,

and great shall be the peace of your children.

In righteousness you shall be established;

you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;

and from terror, for it shall not come near you.

Isaiah 54:11-14


The architectural details of the heavenly city of God owe much to the plans Ezekiel imagined for his glorious city that, in the prophet’s imagination, is readied by God for the safety and peace of the people when they return from exile:


These shall be the exits of the city: On the north side, which is to be 4,500 cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Reuben, the gate of Judah, and the gate of Levi, the gates of the city being named after the tribes of Israel. On the east side, which is to be 4,500 cubits, three gates, the gate of Joseph, the gate of Benjamin, and the gate of Dan. On the south side, which is to be 4,500 cubits by measure, three gates, the gate of Simeon, the gate of Issachar, and the gate of Zebulun. On the west side, which is to be 4,500 cubits, three gates, the gate of Gad, the gate of Asher, and the gate of Naphtali. The circumference of the city shall be 18,000 cubits. And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.                                       Ezekiel 48:30-35  


   Even the Book of Tobit is called in to do the decorations:


For Jerusalem will be built with sapphires and emeralds,

her walls with precious stones,

and her towers and battlements with pure gold.

The streets of Jerusalem will be paved

with beryl and ruby and stones of Ophir;

all her lanes will cry “Hallelujah!”

and will  give praise,


“Blessed is God who has exalted you for ever”.

                                                                  Tobit 13:16-18


The Book of Revelation never quotes a sentence of the Hebrew Bible.  Yet it is full of allusions and suggestions to that indicate how apocalyptic writers imagined the future.  The eschatological visions they paint of the future are firmly rooted in the past. That is to say, they turn to the scrolls of the Bible and glean from them the language, images, and metaphors from which they construct paint their pictures of the future.


   Of course, there is no human architecture in heaven, no bricks and mortar, no golden gates, no Peter rattling the keys and begging “Pray you, remember the porter”.  The future belongs to God whose steadfast love endures forever and that is what heaven is made of. What the Book of Revelation seeks to do is the fill the hearts and minds of the faithful with a glorious vision, a vision of peace after the turmoil of persecution.   


A reading from the holy Gospel according to                  John  14:23-29


Jesus answered him, “If anyone 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. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, 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. 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. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you. ’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.

                                                       The Gospel of the Lord.


Keep in mind these words from today’s Responsorial Psalm:


May God be gracious to us and bless us

and make his face to shine upon us,

that your way may be known on earth,

            your saving power among all nations.


When God’s face shines upon us, that blessing gives more than contentment and peace.  To be sure, to be loved with a steadfast love that endures forever is a consummation devotedly to be wished.  But to be loved by God is to be called. To live in the love of Jesus, disciples are called to live the Jesus commandment :


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.     John 13:34-35


The one who is loved must love with the same passion, the same intensity as that with which one is loved.  God-in- Jesus loves with the love that comes directly from the sacred heart. Even the best of disciples cannot love with the unfathomable depths of God’s love.  Rather, if disciples are to do, they must be prepared to offer a home to the Father and to the Son:

If anyone 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.                                                                John 14:23


The Father and Jesus come (“we shall come …”), not only to dwell amongst us but to dwell in us (and make our home in…).  The Holy Spirit is given care of disciples.  Those who have received the Spirit live in the Spirit and the Spirit lives in them.  The Spirit is the Power who makes the glory of God-in-Jesus a reality on this earth. The mission of the Holy Spirit is to sustain the community of Jesus in the Father’s love.


   Perhaps St Paul may throw some light on that which is so difficult to grasp.  For Paul, the Body of Christ is, of course, the body of Christ Jesus that was crucified.  It is also his risen and glorified Body, and it is the Church, the Body of Christ. A few quotations from Paul will help:


For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.                                                  Romans 12:4


Christians are a community created by the resurrection of Jesus so that they may firmly believe that the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of the Church.  Saint Paul provides some clarification. He sees the beginning of our story in baptism, that is, of course, adult baptism by immersion:


Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6:3-5


Paul sees the going down into the water as a symbol or sign of entering the grave with Christ Jesus.  Coming up from the grave is a symbol of resurrection. The baptised join the community of the baptised having been made children of God:


The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:16-17  


The letter to Ephesians, perhaps not written by Paul but certainly reflecting his way of thinking, offers an explanation to Gentile Christians who were “afar off” from God and to Jewish Christians who were “near” to God:


And he [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:17-22


If you think about it, this is a theological version of the parable of the Prodigal Son.  We might say that Paul does theology whereas Jesus tells stories. But the meaning is the same.  We who were dead to sin are brought to life and we are transformed into a Temple wherein dwells the Lord Jesus; indeed, we become a dwelling place for God to live in.  All this transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. As we shall contemplate when Pentecost comes, it is the Spirit who is the creative force that brings the Church into being.  The little house-churches and the universal Church are the work of the Spirit.


   When Jesus goes to his Father, that great apostle to the apostles, Mary Magdalene, was told by the Lord she loved what all Christians must come to know. His God becomes our God.  His Father becomes our Father. Hallowed be his name.


Joseph O’Hanlon.