Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 29 May 2011
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
In his farewell address to his disciples, Jesus has to wean them off their dependence upon his constant physical presence for their sense of connectedness with God. Their terror at being abandoned is hinted at in his consoling words: “I will not leave you orphans.” At this stage they cannot imagine how the mission of God can possibly continue if Jesus is killed. They are only followers – all the power and know-how, the intimate knowledge of God, rests in their master. Jesus tells them something different. The Jesus who walked alongside them will become the Christ within. Their fellowship with him will not be broken, but taken to a deeper dimension. They need only to continue to show their love for him by living lives of love, which is what he had commanded them to do.
The validity of Jesus’ promise is demonstrated in the life of the Early Church. Philip, described earlier as one filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, demonstrates the life-transforming effects of Christ within by reaching out beyond his own community to those whom the people of God traditionally scorned – the Samaritans. He is described as doing exactly what Jesus did – teaching powerfully, casting out demons and healing paralysed and crippled people. The mission of Jesus continues in the lives of his followers, and not just in the twelve apostles either. The effect is joy and freedom and a restoration to wholeness. These new disciples also receive the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of Christ spreads out in wider and wider ripples.
Peter, writing to believers even further afield, reminds them to be conscious of Christ within. He is convinced that if they are they will be a community characterized by hope which will pique the interest of onlookers. Their love should be evident even in the way in which they share the reason for their hope. There is to be no triumphalism or coercion but a profound respect for the humanity of their conversation partners. Jesus had warned his disciples that there would be some who would not recognize the Spirit of God. This could lead to persecution, even as Jesus himself was killed. But that is no excuse to stop loving, hoping that the hostile ones will have their hearts softened.
The psalm is a thanksgiving psalm giving testimony to God’s saving acts and calling on others to join in worshipping God. That is what Peter wants his readers to do. That is what Phillip was doing. The speaking of God and of Jesus Christ to others bubbles forth from a profound experience of God at our core. When we give testimony, let it be motivated by love, guided by the Spirit and let Christ within us radiate out.