Easter Readings – John – Session 13

 INTRO So far in the ‘Farewell discourses’ Jesus has told his disciples that the love they bear for one another is the clearest sign of Faith that ‘I have come from the Father’; the clearest sign that Jesus is risen and alive among them, the clearest sign that the Holy Sprit is poured into their hearts. But now Jesus speaks ‘plainly’ (John 16: 25 & 29): there is a cost to witnessing to Him, to living Faith and Love in Christ Jesus. 

[1] Because His disciples will be witnessing in a hostile world – ‘if the world hates you remember…’ (John 15: 18-16: 3). We have reflected how the insights of a particular evangelist or Gospel arises from the particular experience and challenges faced by the originating community or communities. The Gospels are ‘faith documents’ not biographies or histories – and the Faith is the Apostolic Faith – the faith as proclaimed and lived by the first apostles and the communities they formed. Each community had its own historical and social context, its own particular challenges and questions. The challenges and questions shaped their understanding and insights into Jesus and His Teaching and life. Jewish ‘Matthew’ wrestling with how this radical Jesus is really the fulfilment of Israel’s covenant vocation, so Jesus is experienced by this community as a New Moses; Gentile ‘Luke’ working with Paul among new cultures distant from the Hebrew tradition  and attracting many poor and enslaved people experiences Jesus as Prophet of the Poor, Prophet of Mercy – a world without mercy or compassion for the poor; ‘Mark’ of mixed Jewish/Gentile communities wrestling with unbelief and misunderstanding and tension between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians experiences Jesus as one who asks more questions than gives answers (the so-called ‘Markan Messianic Secret’) and confronts lack of faith everywhere, including among his own disciples even after the Resurrection.  It is important to remember that each community experienced Jesus risen and among them, Jesus ‘working them’ as they preached the Gospel (Mark 16: 20). Their insights are not their inventions – they are expressions of how they experienced Jesus risen and alive and utterly relevant to their challenges and issues, the reality of the Spirit ‘leading them into all truth’ (John 16: 13). Each ‘tradition’ is therefore part of the Apostolic ‘Tradition’, the Apostolic Witness and Faith, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and consequently forms the sure foundation upon which is built the Community of Faith in all ages and all places until the end of time. 

[2] Discipleship and Persecution – the world hated Me – so it will hate you for being my disciples (John 15: 18- 16: 33). So a fundamental experience of the Johannine communities (of Asia Minor if identified with those communities mentioned in the Book of Revelation) was persecution: persecution by the ruling Roman authorities; persecution by ‘diaspora Jews’ who like the early Saul (before he became ‘Paul’) expelled and opposed all Jewish Christians from the synagogues; the struggle for Truth among so many heretical views circulating in Christian and semi-Christian groups, such as gnosticism (an elitist philosophy and  group that claimed ‘special’ knowledge not known by others and often saw the world as a dualistic struggle between forces of Light and Darkness, Good and Evil – it still has its counterparts in some ‘new movements’ in the Church of today!). So, arising from this lived experience of discipleship of the Word made Flesh risen among us, John’s Gospel speaks extensively of the ‘hatred of the world’ for Jesus and the disciples of Jesus. We like to think that Goodness is recognised, that Love is valued – however the very clear testimony of history and the Christian tradition in particular is that Goodness so often attracts opposition, because it is an implicit judgement on lives with little love!  Truth struggles for acceptance because it challenges us to change from our familiar world. Advocating Justice for the poor challenges the vested interests of power and wealth. And in the Church, accepting the radicalism of the Gospel of Jesus disturbs those who cling to status and easy certainties, and use a false ‘orthodoxy’ to stay in control and cling to dominating power instead of embracing the ‘foot washing’ of a servant Church, constantly open to the newness of the Spirit leading us into ever new future for God’s People and God’s world! This part of the Farewell discourse has Jesus warning us His disciples (he says ‘my choice withdrew you from the world – therefore the world hates you’ John 15: 19) that such opposition, even hatred, is a permanent state of hostility for the Church – when the Church is true to Christ and the Gospel. We can think of St Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador in our own time, as well as the opposition and even hatred that our reforming Pope Francis is experiencing from factions in the Church itself. Jesus reminds us that this is a condition of being a ‘servant’ like our ‘Servant-Master’, ‘Servant King’ who dies as a convicted slave on a Cross of torture! – and this was his Glory, the perfection of self-giving Love! (John 15: 20). Yet the  Advocate,  the Holy Spirit will sustain us in our witness to the Truth and the Love that is Jesus. The Spirit is the courage of our witnessing to the Kingdom of Justice, love and peace, the Word of Divine Love being made Flesh in our World today. Jesus choice withdraws us from the world – the world of injustice, the world of hate, the world of discrimination and conflict, the world of power politics and voracious pursuit of power and wealth. But His choice is in order to  immerse us into the world of Love, the World of struggling for Justice and giving Voice to the Voiceless, the World as it is is called to be and is coming painfully to birth in the struggle for humanity and freedom (Romans 8: 19-22).

[3] The Promise of the Spirit, the Paraclete is renewed (John 16: 4-15). Jesus tells his disciples this now – in the Farewell Discourses – because he is leaving them – but He will continue to be their strength, their companion, their inner Presence and reality, through the coming of the Spirit. Their sadness – including their grief for those who have paid the ultimate price of witnessing (the martyrs among the Johannine communities) that sorrow will turn to Joy. The Holy Spirit is judgement on the world – but always it is Love’s Judgement – a judgement that seeks to save us from our destructive selves and transform us (through rebirth) into our true and divine selves! And this Holy Spirit leads us in to all Truth (John 16: 13). Jesus is God’s Total Word of Love and Truth and Revelation: the Holy Spirit empowers us, leads us to unfold this Truth, discover this Truth as a Pilgrim People journeying with an ever-changing world with ever-changing new challenges. God’s Truth is not static but dynamic, an endless discovery of a Truth ever new in the Eternal where everything is ever new – the Eternal ’Now’ is the Eternal ‘New’! Hence the ‘Development of Doctrine’ is not a departure and unfaithfulness from the ‘unchanging Truth’ of the Gospel, but rather the work of the Spirit leading us into all truth through the Faith experience of the Church on the move through  humanity’s history.

AFTERWORD What do we need to ‘withdraw’ from in our world in order that He can immerse into our world in a new and more creative way? What world am I called to be immersed in, committed to in order to be a Sacrament of Divine Love, a bearer of Divine Truth, a servant of Divine Life and healing – forging the future of the a Church relevant to our rapidly changing world – in order to forge a new ‘Kingdom’ world of Justice, freedom, humanity, peace, communion with all creation?

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