Homily 6th Sunday of Easter YrA

Fr. Gregory Murphy – Homily 6th Sunday of Easter YrA
Today’s gospel begins and ends with the correlation between love and obedience (14:15, 21). The relationship between disciples and Jesus is not to degenerate into sentimentality or into a wistful nostalgia once he has gone, about “how wonderful things were when Jesus was with us.” Love expresses itself in obedience, in keeping Jesus’ words. The disciples have a clear command about life and relationships from Jesus’ teaching, about washing feet and loving one another. Ignoring or disobeying that command exposes a lack of love.
But this demand for obedience is delivered from legalism by the accompanying promise of the divine presence to be with those who love Jesus and obey his word. We might wonder whether obedience is a precondition for receiving the divine presence, whether the Spirit and the risen Christ come only to those who convincingly demonstrate by their actions that they really love Jesus. Taken in isolation, some verses in the passage could be read this way, except that the entire context is affirmative and not provisional. Jesus wishes to relieve troubled hearts. To be sure, the passage does draw a very sharp contrast between the world and the disciples, but the contrast is not intended to create in the disciples an anxious concern as to whether they have loved and obeyed sufficiently. Obedience and presence are better thought of as a chicken-and-egg proposition. Those to whom the Spirit comes live in love and obedience, and those who live in love and obedience are persons in whom the Spirit dwells.
The language about the divine presence expresses the coming of the Paraclete (14:16–17), the coming of the risen Jesus (v. 18), and, beyond this reading, the coming of Jesus and the Father together (v.23). It is frankly impossible on the basis of this gospel to draw distinctions between these comings as if they represented different experiences, three separate advents of God. Instead, the gospel makes the single point that after his return to the Father, Jesus remains in communion with the disciples through the presence of the Paraclete.
Two critical statements are made about the divine presence. On the one hand, the world does not know or recognize the divine presence. On the other hand, the disciples do know and recognize the divine presence. A sharp difference between the world and the disciples is established, and apparently the disciples need to understand exactly the nature of the difference (since the statements are repeated: (14:17, 19–21). What the disciples cherish, what sustains them and undergirds their life together, what keeps them from being orphaned is a reality that the world cannot discern.
We do well to reflect on this sharp difference drawn by the gospel between the world and the disciples. The church cannot expect the world to appreciate or participate in its reason for being, its mandate for mission, its source of strength. The one who guides the church into all truth remains a secret to the world. The world’s ways of knowing and its criteria for evaluating what is real and important do not allow for such a divine presence as this. This suggests that the church, particularly in its moments of uncertainty and confusion, cannot look complacent about what it is doing. It cannot expect that its way of loving Jesus and obeying his commandments will necessarily be highly valued, that it will receive praise or be popular when it is most faithful to Jesus’ directive. At the same time, the church is prevented from an arrogant aloofness from the world, because it knows that the divine presence is a gift. Jesus looks on a potentially orphaned community and asks the Father to send the Paraclete to be present with them. It is not a reward for the church’s good behaviour or its sincere piety, but an expression of God’s grace, the gift of his Spirit, that the people of God enjoy the presence and direction of God. As pope Francis has said of Holy Communion, this is a gift, not a reward for good behaviour. Are we responsive to the voice of God’s Spirit in us?