CYCLE C. EASTER. WEEK 6
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
A family friend of mine was once travelling abroad on a business trip and his fiancée and I were around to see him off to the airport. We arrived at the airport pretty early but the young man almost missed his flight because the love birds found it so hard to let go of each other. In fact, the more the boarding calls came, the tighter the fiancée held him. With the final boarding call, the young man had to practically wrestle himself away from the lady’s grip to run frantically towards the boarding gate.
Lovers normally want to be with each other hence parting between real lovers can be too painful. The relationship between the Christian and Christ is essentially a love relationship. That is why Jesus said in John 15:15 “I do not call you servants any longer … I call you friends.” In this Sunday’s Gospel which is a continuation of his last words at the Last Supper, Jesus prepares his depressed disciples for his departure. He tells them: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”
This implies that it is loving Jesus that will help us to keep his commandments. Hence, the primary motivation is love. It furthermore indicates that Jesus does not want slavish or blind obedience from his followers but obedience that is motivated by love.
The natural desire of one who is in love is to please the beloved; to understand them better, know their likes and dislikes and then do one’s best to respond accordingly. The Christian who is genuinely motivated by love of God and of Jesus will therefore be passionate about “keeping his word.”
The “word” of Jesus includes but must not be limited to what we were taught as “commandments” or “doctrines”. It embraces his vision of life as he championed in the Gospels right from his birth in the stable of animals to the appalling last moments of agony and humiliation on the Cross.
To keep Jesus’ words is to embrace this love-inspired vision, to identify with it and make it real in the particular context of one’s own life. It is this that will activate God’s special love for you, and Jesus and his Father will come and live permanently with you. In this way the vacuum left by his physical absence will be filled spiritually by the divine presence which is as real or even more real than the physical presence.
Jesus knew that when he is gone there will be confusion and even ignorance regarding his word or his teaching so he provided for it. He assures: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”.
The Holy Spirit has been described as playing the role a coach plays for his team; always by our side to instruct, correct, challenge and inspire us to be our best, to defend us and fight for our rights when we are being undermined but especially to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, making it possible for us to live again.
Jesus said because I live you will live. Hence, we need the Holy Spirit for the same reason that sports people need coaches no matter how good they are.
Yet, there’s still a problem as many today claim the ministration of the Holy Spirit thus coming up with a thousand different answers to the same question. Surely, the Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict Himself (or Herself, whichever). In this regard, it is important to note that when Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will teach ‘you’ everything, he meant ‘you’ in plural i.e. the community of believers, the Church, not ‘you’ as an individual. Of course the Holy Spirit inspires us individually but the Holy Spirit is given primarily to the church and, through the church, to us as individuals.
Disagreements among earliest Christians as seen in the First Reading were resolved in synod of dialogue and community discernment because the Holy Spirit speaks to us primarily in such contexts. The controversy was regarding whether non-Jewish Christians must practice Jewish customs from which the Christian movement sprang. Having agreed that the non-Jews should not be burdened beyond the essentials, the synod made its declaration beginning in the following words: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us….”
It is thus an acknowledgement right from the beginning, the church saw itself as guided by the Holy Spirit when it gathers in formal deliberation. It is not just a matter of human beings gathering and hammering out compromises as legislators do. The Holy Spirit of God speaks through such assemblies of the Church till today. We therefore need to listen. By extension, today’s message also encourages dialogue in resolution of differences in relationships, in families and in communities. As Jesus once said, where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be in their midst.
The resolution of the controversy of the early church at synod indicates that the Church is a living thing; an organism rather than a time-bound organization. Like a living organism, without compromising its integrity, it evolves and is thus enabled to respond creatively and meaningfully to the changing times.