16th year A

The Book of Wisdom, sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, dates from the first century BC, not that long before the time of Christ. It was written in Greek for Greek speaking Jews who were quite numerous in the Jewish quarter of the famous city of Alexandria, then capital of Egypt. This city at that time was famous for its development of culture, science and mathematics (through names like Euclid and Archimedes), but also for its exploration of different ways of life like magic, mystery religions and Stoicism (which we might call new age or humanism). Alexandria was famous as a centre of learning, for its Library of about half a million books, and its teaching Museum. Here was produced the Septuagint (LXX) – the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Wisdom of Solomon is a book not in the Protestant Bible but Catholics and Episcopalians accept it. In our reading there is a real sense of sin but this is accompanied with a realisation of the infinite power of God to forgive, overcome and counteract the effects of sin; and the lesson we should learn from this is about our own attitude to others. It introduces the notion of the justice of God and presents the thought that because of His greatness God’s justice can include leniency – a supportive message for those living in such a modern and secular society as then in Alexandria and as here today.

We read again this week a little more from this key chapter in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have a greater exposure to the Universe and to the science of its material composition than Paul had in his day. In the previous verses (8:22-25), he has written of God’s effort in creating and of His help in our hope of overcoming human frailty and becoming what God wants us to be. But here we read that we don’t even know what to hope and pray for, yet God’s Spirit works in us as He does in the whole of creation, and utters the prayer that we cannot express. The Greek word for this way of saying what we ourselves cannot understand is the basis of our word stenography; that meant the use of shorthand to record spoken (dictated) text; but in our technological age, it is also used for the encryption of text within a file (of an image or of video) so that only the intended recipient can read it. The words that the Spirit utters are concealed in the inadequate prayers we make and are understood, accepted and answered by God.

 

This long reading is shortened in many churches by leaving out verses 31-35 which contain two short parables about the mustard seed and the yeast. Without these we have a parable and its explanation. The parable itself (verses 24-30) is about good seed growing up surrounded by weeds; these are not dealt with until the crop is harvested; this is what the kingdom of God is likened to. The weeds, called tares in the older translations, are probably zizania or darnel, which are fairly indistinguishable at first from the wheat among which they grow. This parable is not in the other Gospels in the New Testament, but it probably was developed from a simpler seed parable, as a way to illustrating the admixture in our world and even within Christian communities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people; and also to say you cannot sort them out in this life, but at the final judgement, then they will be dealt with appropriately by God.

see Jeffs Jottings – Sophie

15th cycle A

The first reading may well have been written after the poem in Genesis at the beginning of the Bible. In that poem it is the word of God that brings things about, it reads: “God said, let there be light and there was light;” and so with all the things the poem mentions, they are created by God saying “let there be…”. But in our first reading today the word of God is treated more as a reality like the rain or snow that comes from God, it is the word of God that comes down to bring about in our world what God wants done; the word of God has the power of creating. This part of the Book of Isaiah communicates hope, for God always achieves what He plans – we have reason to rejoice, and we believe now that “the Word became human” (John 1:14).

The second reading reminds us that creation is an ongoing process the end of which will be ‘glorious.’ The world we experience is not complete yet, indeed we are part of this unfinished process of creation, and it is we who sometimes hinder its progress through our failings, selfishness and sin, when we do not live up to our calling as children of God. However God’s powerful Spirit plays a part in creation, as we can read in the opening poem of the Bible, where it says: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). The urge towards the glorious fulfilment of this process of creation is described as the groaning of the spirit; the Spirit is within us, anxious to express the life of God in the way we live, we just have to let it work its power in us and we shall become the person God wants us to be. People who live in a beautiful land of hills and mountains might appreciate these readings more, especially the the verse which follows the first reading from Isaiah (55:12):-

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

 

The scene in the gospel is very understandable: Jesus, who spoke words that seemed so encouraging to many ordinary people, attracted a following and a crowd who wanted to hear him; in a boat just off the shore or sometimes up a prominence, it was a more convenient for him to be seen and heard by all who wished to hear him. His manner of speaking was natural for one brought up in a small village in the countryside, and was readily understood, at least at its surface meaning; but the deeper meaning of his parables and illustrations might only be appreciated by those who were wanting, or willing to try to live with a deeper and more challenging commitment to the ways of God. His teachings and parables would have been re-used by his disciples and followers in the early days; they would have been developed and adapted to the new situation after the resurrection and when the church spread and struggled in the secular world. So the different types of seed in the reading might refer to the different kinds of Christians addressed. Even today some who join the church respond differently, some very enthusiastic at first but then tailing off, others unable to maintain their commitment because of their immersion in a society of different standards, but there will be some who “produce fruit” to various degrees.

see Jeffs Jottings – The Idea of God

14th Sunday A

The Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, is divided into three parts; in order of importance they are the Law, the Prophets and the Writings; the Prophets covers the major writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, followed by the 12 Minor Prophets; the last of these is Malachi which is headed, ‘an Oracle,” and before that is Zechariah from which today’s first reading is taken; chapters and 9, 11, 12 and14 are each also called ‘Oracle.’  Our reading is taken from the first of these oracles. The first verses before it are about the ill-fate of the nations surrounding Judah, but our reading contrasts that with the announcement of a great king, who is righteous and saves – often translated simply as being triumphant and victorious. Yet as well as being great he does not ride the horse of a warrior but a simpler, and maybe humbler, donkey. The last oracles in the collection of the Prophets were added by a later editor, we cannot be sure of their date nor consequently of the circumstances to which they refer. The general message is one of ‘God will save His people;’ and Christians would see this as a reference to Jesus who was selfless and humble and He certainly makes salvation available to us. The other readings might elaborate on the practical ‘workings’ of this process for individuals.

The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is largely an exposition of how he perceives the whole relationship between people and God. The section we have today follows one about the human and particularly Jewish situation: we are inevitably going to die someday; we are going to suffer from both the wickedness of those around us and our own stupidity and sinfulness; for the Jews there is also the difficulty of trying to keep all the rules of their Law and of their religion; and we might add nowadays that the world in which we live brings disasters that are both natural and brought about by our own misuse of nature. A satisfactory solution to this comes from God. Hence in our extract Paul identifies the problem in our lives with the word ‘flesh’ – we live according to the flesh; and the solution is to live instead in the spirit – the Spirit of God in us. These two sides (literally of flesh and spirit) are difficult to translate and as we try to see what it means it is worth looking at the variety of attempts at translation though many are still too literal. This reading is noteworthy for its emphasis on the Spirit, Who is often played down in favour of the Creator, father-figure and the sacrifice for our sins of His Son; some theologians think this has come about because those in authority in the Church, as anywhere, like things to be orderly and under control rather than inspired by enthusiasm or a spirit of freedom.

The gospel comes from a tradition also used by Luke and its language about the Father and Son and their relationship to us is almost in the style of some parts of John’s gospel. There is also the contrast in believers, between those who rely on their own sophistication to know something of God, and children who generally just accept what they are told and seems obvious.  The second part can easily be read as saying that Jesus will bring us relaxation and an easy life; but we should note that we will have a burden and a yoke, but when it is Christ’s it is not so burdensome because He carries it too!

see Jeffs Jottings – Wise guys

SS Peter and Paul

In the Acts 12:1-11 Luke is writing the remarkable account of the expansion of Christianity and the development of the church; and this is despite external opposition, even persecution, and their leaders’ inadequacies and failings. The story is built around the two different characters in the early church of Peter and Paul. Whereas Peter was a headstrong, simple Galilean Jewish fisherman who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry, Paul was a well educated Jew and Roman citizen living outside of the Jewish territory, who after a special encounter with Jesus turned from antagonism to christians to become an apostle Christianity to the Gentiles. The phrase “in those days” at the beginning of today’s reading, alludes to the time when the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and the surrounding area expanded and even included followers of Jesus’ Way who were not Jews – they were Samaritans or even Gentiles. It was this expansion that began to cause disturbances in Jerusalem. Herod, the local ruler, wanted to keep the peace in order to retain favour within the Roman empire, and so began to arrest the Jewish Christian leaders who were the source of the trouble. So our reading concerns the imprisonment of Peter; it was during the feast of unleavened Bread – a sacred time in Jerusalem – so he would be executed after the Passover, as James had been earlier. The story of his escape was passed down by word of mouth and that is what is related here by Luke. This is a good story illustrating how faith can lead us into difficulties and yet God can save us.

The two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus are together called the pastoral epistles. They may well date from about the year 100 AD at a time when the organisation of the body of Christians was developing and the difficulties of admitting Gentiles and the like were overcome. But at that time part of the difficulty was the distance in time since Jesus, and even since the time of the disciples who knew him. So these letters are about life and practice in this later church. But the letters do include some passages that seem most likely to come from Paul himself, and our reading today is from one of these sections. In the first paragraph Paul writes about himself in later life as he looks back on the devoted life that he has led and looks forward to his expected reward like that of all who work for the fullness of coming of Christ on earth. The second paragraph in the original begins with a “But” because the text tells of the loneliness and difficult situation of Paul – even being unsupported when taken to court – which explains the ‘but’ before our second paragraph. On this feast of Peter and Paul, this reading shows Paul as a saint in the sense of the word, someone that we would do well to emulate; we should be pouring out our lives for God’s work and confident that the Lord is with us even at difficult times and that we shall eventually get our reward.

Peter acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah is told in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). But Matthew, which we read today, adds a commissioning of Peter to be a leader of the church. This may be because the churches for which Matthew is particularly writing had a special respect for Peter their founder and leader for a time. He is called a rock, which is what Peter means. Neverthe less he also was the most headstrong disciple who so often let Jesus down. This is why he is an admiral saint – someone we can look to emulate in some way because even when we mess things up we can be sorry, be forgiven and still go on to do good things. He was eventually executed for his faith in Rome. Catholics particularly view him as the first overall leader of the Church worldwide – a Pope

There is a delightful incident about Rhoda (in our language Rose) which follows our first reading and is the subject of my jotting this week.

click Jeffs Jottings – the lassie Rose

12th Sunday of Year A

The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah displays a common pattern in the experiences of all humans when they are intending to do their best and what they think is right. In this 7th century BC this prophet really feels the call from God to try to bring the people – all people – back into a good relationship with a loving God and to preach with severity and reproach against the poor behaviour of his people. It seems almost natural that they oppose him more and more as he upbraids them – and Jeremiah had a really tough time. But he earnestly wants to believe that God will see him alright in the end, will put his accuses to shame; he has faith yet it is shot through with human weakness for he hopes and expects that God will ‘get His own back’ on these miscreants … Jeremiah hopes for revenge! The best of us will still get things wrong about God and His ways.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wants to express the central beliefs he has as a follower of Christ. In this brief extract we see evidence of his Jewish education, in that he sees the story of Adam in the bible in two ways: it is about the temptation of the first man to do what is forbidden, the giving-in to this lure and the consequent expulsion from the happy situation in the garden of Eden for himself and for the whole human race that descended from him; but it also sees Adam as a representation of the general human condition, the fact that all of us will be tempted, will give in to temptation and in consequence suffer some sort of alienation from reality and our true selves. Sin is not just breaking a rule, but falling short of the sort of human one could and ought to be. However, Jesus is the man who has reversed this situation for everyone (which is the import of his phrase “for many”).

The extract from Matthew that is today’s gospel reading comes after Jesus has been telling his followers that they will face persecution but will be loved by God, whatever people do to them that is hurtful. Jesus says that all will be made clear and will make sense in the end. It is strange that Matthew uses terms like body and soul, because this way of seeing a person was that of the Greek culture whereas Matthew is generally more influenced by Jewish teaching in which this distinction isn’t made – but his audience would be Diaspora Jews. But we should have reverential fear for God, though He loves all his creation especially humans. This whole passage might give us an insight into some of the difficulties Jesus’ followers might be having at the time Matthew is writing – after the destruction of the Temple about 70 AD

see Jeffs Jottings – Do something about it

Corpus Christi

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, which comes from the Greek words for five and for scroll; together these books are called the Law, particularly in the Jewish religion. The last of these five books is called Deuteronomy, which come from the Greek words for second and for law, because this book is like a summing up of the laws and experiences of the previous books of the Law. It is chiefly a story of the relationship between God and the people; He saves and looks after them time and again in wonderful ways, they repeatedly complain and let Him down – it’s the story of our lives too, perhaps. The verses we have today focus on the manna, which they received as a gift from God when they found themselves in the desert with no knowledge of how to survive there and hence made a complaint against God for leading them there through Moses. Manna was seen as miraculous food that was the gift of life for them from God even though they were not deserving. From this it is clear how this is related to the sacrament of Communion.

The second reading is just a couple of verses from a letter of Paul to the Corinthians written about the year 54 AD. The selection follows on well after the first reading where the wanderers in the desert formed a community chosen by God, protected by Him and often failing to please Him. The Corinthians are living in a pagan setting and can easily fall into the pagan ways; so two verses earlier, Paul writes to them, “my dear friends, flee from idolatry!” Then, like a good teacher or caring and tactful parent, he tells them to be sensible – as they are – and asks them to think carefully about what he is going to say (“I am speaking as to sensible people: judge for yourselves what I say”); this is what precedes our reading. The Christians in Corinth would come together, probably weekly, to share a meal; it was a custom imported from Jewish practice to have a prayer of thanks during the drinking of a cup of wine, and also to break and share bread to symbolise their fellowship. The Christian Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) developed from this. But here Paul is thinking of the Blood of Christ as the life He led and the death He met for the sake of others – including the Corinthians and us today; he makes it quite clear that for the sharing of bread he is thinking of the body of Christians gathered together who now live out the life of Christ in their lives. The more specific beliefs that the feast of Corpus Christi celebrates developed gradually in the churches and can differ across the denominations.

What we read for today’s gospel is a section of a lengthy discourse in Chapter 6 of John’s gospel, after his telling of the miraculous feeding of the multitude. The discourse has already referred to the manna in the desert (vv32f) which links with today’s first reading. In the discourse the use of “living bread” is similar to the “living water” in the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well (John 4:7-15), both are to do with eternal life. Jesus has already said in this speech that believing is what leads to this special life, but in our reading He is clearly referring to the Eucharist, for his phrases mirror those of the Last Supper as told elsewhere in the New Testament. Here, however, the word ‘flesh’ replaces the more usual ‘body.’ John has used this word when describing how God came to be one of us (“the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” John 1:14). Some recent (adventurous) translations have replaced ‘flesh’ in this verse with ‘human,’ but the word, even in English today, has other connotations in phrases like ‘in the flesh’, ‘it makes my flesh creep’ and ‘she’s my own flesh and blood.’) Here together with ‘blood,’ it clearly refers to the Eucharist especially the sacrificial aspect of Jesus’ whole life and death – this is what offers us eternal life, and what we celebrate this day!

See Jeffs Jottings – The body of Christ

Trinity Sunday

Exodus is the second book of the Bible; it is based on and around the story of slaves escaping from their oppression in Egypt and travelling through the hostile desert under the leadership of Moses; and it was in this process that a relationship was built up between them and the one god who would be theirs from then on forever; it was the god with the mysterious name of Yahweh, meaning something like ‘I am who is.’ This basic oral account over time gained a great number of elaborations and additions before it settled into the written form in the Bible that has now been more or less unaltered for about two and a half thousand years. In our extract for today’s first reading we hear of this aloof and even fearful God condescending to meet with Moses the people’s leader on the heights of the sacred mount Sinai. This god then announces himself (always referred to in this personal way) as kind and forgiving, despite the unfaithfulness of the people whose god He is. Moses is encouraged by this revelation and feels enabled to respond on behalf of the people he leads, with worship and prayer for blessing and forgiveness. It is this threefold pattern in this section of the Exodus story that is seen by Christians to suit this day’s feast of the Trinity – the threefold pattern of God the aloof, the one who shows Himself and the one who enables an appropriate response.

In the second reading we have the ending of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. This ‘letter’ is most likely an amalgam of two or more previous letters written by Paul, gathered as one document. The end of the epistle which we hear today is very interesting. It could easily be taken as part of a Church service. As early as the 50s or 60s, Christians probably came together each Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to mutually support each other and to hear some teaching from their leader. If there was a letter from Paul, it would have been read out at this meeting, perhaps with an ending like we have in today’s reading. This ending encourages rejoicing and happiness, it suggests renewing one’s efforts to live good lives and it calls down peace and love upon the community. This would conclude the reading at their gathering, before the most sacred part of their celebration, when perhaps they had what we today might call ‘the peace,’. On this feast of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity we particularly notice the Trinitarian wording in this blessing and it has become a common prayer used by Christians to this day and often referred to just as ‘the Grace.’

In the account of Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus at night (John 3:2), and finally being told that Jesus is the light (John 3:19) we seem to have a conversation carefully constructed for the Christians of the early Church in a Greek speaking context. Our gospel reading takes just a few verses from this account. In John, even more than in the other three gospels, we have a strong emphasis on the Spirit of God; the Holy Spirit is not only the instigation of the public ministry of Jesus at His baptism but also the future source of eternal life after His death and resurrection for others; this comes to them at baptism and at what we would call the Sacrament of the Eucharist., enabling and supporting a lived-out belief in Jesus, where the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel reminds readers that the flesh without spirit is useless. Our passage’s references to love should also make us think of the action of the Holy Spirit, especially this day as we celebrate the triple dynamism of God’s reality, its relationship to creation and its life within which we live.

see Jeffs Jottings – Not alone

Pentecost

The first reading is Luke’s account in Acts of the first Christian Pentecost. The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as an agricultural harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually (especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD) into a celebration of the reception of the Law from God as part of their covenant with Him. Jews from far away places would home in on Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The Greek word Pentecost refers to the fiftieth day, so this story is set about seven weeks after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for the Christian feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes of the disciples, the women and all the brethren – 120 people – gathering together. In the references to wind and fire there are echoes of accounts in the Old Testament of God’s contact with His covenant people, especially through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19f) for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Now it is to indicate the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, Luke says, “in different tongues.” Some believers in the church of Corinth had been ‘speaking in tongues’, called glossolalia, during worship gatherings according to 1 Cor 12, (as some charismatics do to this day) but Luke has different languages in mind because he wants to make the point that the Good News is for the whole known world, hence his long (traditional) list of different places and peoples. The word of God must be expressed so that all ordinary people might understand; this might be a sign of the reversal of the communal pride and godless aspirations in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis (Chapter 11) which the Jews often retold; and there could be a lesson there for our community or society today.
In the second reading Paul is addressing a problem in the Christian community in Corinth. Different people play different roles in the community arising from their gift from the Spirit of God; some had obviously wanted their own aggrandisement from these gifts without consideration for the community. In our reading, it is pointed out that the Spirit is differentiated for the good of the whole – like the different parts of a body, the body of Christ that the community is. Without the Spirit, he writes, “No one can say, Jesus is Lord.” But since anyone can actually make this statement, it must really mean that believing that Jesus is Lord is not about accepting a proposition but living in a particular way – living the way Jesus would have one live. This particular phrase, was most likely a very early statement of faith for those who became Christians. Nearly 200 years later the Creed that we have today was developed, and we must remember that believing it, is not saying the words, but determining to live how God would have us live.

The Spirit played an instigating part in the creation poem at the opening of the Bible, hovering over the disorder before the creative words are spoken (Gen 1:1-3). In Greek and in Hebrew the same word can mean spirit or wind, and it can be associated with breath. Today we celebrate a significant stage in the on-going process of creation. It was after the Word was sent by God into our world as Jesus to establish the ideal pattern for being human – from birth to fulfillment through death. Our gospel reading is from John: Good News for the 1st century disciples, but also for all who want to be successful humans – for us here today. The reading tells of the dawning of the realisation that Christ is risen – the one who now transcends earthly limitations – Sent by God. He identifies Himself showing the wounds of His life on earth. Then He sends us, who are now disciples, breathing in us the same creative Spirit. We have the task of communicating God’s forgiveness of sins; it is the really good news that we have to show to people by how we relate to them. But alas, some will hold on to their worldly and selfish pleasures and will not accept the gift we bring. Hence, though we have the joy of the Spirit, we too will suffer from the struggle, yet with deep immense joy, of working for the creation of the ideal world that God is creating.

see Jeffs Jottings – The Spirit

Easter 7

Thursday is the feast of the Ascension.  Its not that Jesus has left this world, but rather that He is everywhere and especially in all other human beings whom we meet!  But now to Sunday’s readings —-

The first reading is just after the introduction to the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus’ last words to his disciples before His departure into heaven, are “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;” then as an outline for Luke’s story of the spread of early Christianity, He says, “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8); this expansion of Christianity is the story Luke tells in Acts. Our reading today comes after the account of the Ascension, when we are given the impression that the disciples’ world seems to have been turned upside down: they are devastated; first of all Jesus died before establishing the Kingdom, and although He showed Himself to be alive after that, now He has gone and left them to get on with it and they feel abandoned. So what are we told they did? They prayed; and in this short account there is an important lesson for us! We don’t know what they prayed, but I think when one is at a really low ebb in life, one should pray to God about whatever one feels: let down, pointlessness, need for guidance etc. and maybe take a look at the second reading.

In the second reading it is Christians who are likely to be persecuted who are being addressed. We hear some sayings very hard to take about suffering and the recommended attitude towards it, as well as the hope of glory – but that’s in the future. We know that this approach was lived out in Christ’s life on earth. We learn from His prayer in Gethsemane in the Gospels that Jesus found it quite hard towards the end of His life, for He prayed “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And perhaps this incident and prayer is recorded there to help us when we suffer, and it is definitely suitable for the early, persecuted, Christians as well as for us today.

In the gospel, we have the final section of the long passages after the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. It uses the literary form of a Farewell speech. At first He speaks for the last time about glory; it has been a recurring theme in this Gospel – He showed it in so many recounted incidents in His life; He prays also about eternal life – the timeless life of the Godhead which He also shares in. References to the ‘hour’ have also been made in lots of the stories in John’s Gospel where it was something awaited, but now it has finally come. In addition Jesus prays about the disciples, indeed He prays for them! They will continue  Jesus’ task of revealing the glory of God in the world; but for now He is bidding them farewell; leaving them in the world. The world is the place where God is not yet revealed properly, so He prays for the disciples, because they have this task to do, in and for the world. This passage is sometimes called the priestly prayer, because it comes from one who calls down blessing, who supports belief, and does this for others who will do the actual work of revealing God’s glory in the (secular) world. It is you and I now who are those people tasked with this role, about whom this prayer is made; and Jesus is within the Godhead, and yet all that is His, is with us and working through us in this enormous but so important task.

see Jeffs Jottings – Gospel truth ?

Easter 6

The first reading is from the point in Acts where Luke tells of the extension of Christianity beyond the confines of Judea and the limits of the Jewish religion. Christianity is spread by Philip, one of the ‘deacons’ appointed to help the Hellenists in Jerusalem (see last week’s first reading). He goes to the Samaritans, who had become separated from the Jewish faith when they intermarried with non-Jews centuries earlier, and who were despised by the Jews. We have mixed reports about them in the Gospels: Jesus sent the chosen twelve out saying “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans” (Matthew10:2-6); Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25ff); and in John’s Gospel (Chapter 4), Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman and many Samaritans come to believe in him through her testimony. Philip had been commissioned through the laying on of hands by the Apostles specifically to pastor the Hellenists in Jerusalem, but now we see him as a missionary (sometime translated as an evangelist – one who preaches the Good News) to the Samaritans. He is successful Luke tells us, because of his words and the miracles attributed to him; many of them are baptised; we recall that Peter had told the Jews, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38f). Peter’s words imply that baptism brings the gift of the Holy Spirit and is open to “whomever God will call.” But when the Apostles in Jerusalem hear of this they send Peter and John to lay their hands on the Samaritans for them to receive the Spirit. Behind this we might detect some edginess between the ‘mother’ church’s leaders and the successful evangelist, Philip, though it is not made explicit, for Luke when he was travelling with Paul stayed with Philip at his house in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-10). We learn from this reading about the growth of the Church both as a community of the Spirit and as an organised body (of Christ); the process will always be difficult and is still going on in the worldwide context of the Church to this day – we all play a part in this.

The second reading from the First letter of Peter takes up this very theme from the first reading, of finding things difficult. However the writer has more aggressive antagonism and from persecutors of Christians – this is common to the early Christians addressed. Suffering can be expected, and Christians must be prepared for it. If it is verbal aggressive criticism, we must be ready with some explanation of our Christian beliefs and practices; but we must never be antagonistic in reply. If we share in the life of Christ then we must expect suffering as we live out our Christian calling. The pattern of Christ’s life is suffering for doing good, and this very suffering brought goodness into our world and our lives.

The Gospel is a continuation of the long discourse of last week’s gospel reading, and continues with the mystery that life is as a follower of Christ. The focus of this section is love. Usually Christians are though of as those who believe in Jesus, but here, Jesus is trying to say something about the life for Christians after His death. Added to love is the need to keep His commandments. And then Jesus says that He will ask the Father to send them another Advocate – a word sometimes translated Paraclete. The questions that they will have without Jesus there to respond to them, can be dealt with by the Paraclete, Who is the Spirit of truth. But they will not really be without Jesus anyway, for in the love that they live out as Christians, He and the Father will be present to them, though not present in this way to others. We see in this passage the early emergence of the formulation of the Trinity – forever a mystery, but one in which we can be involved when we keep the commandment of love!

see Jeffs Jottings – mass on the world