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