6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR A 2020 (R. 1: Acts 8: 5- 8, 14- 17; Psalm 66: 1- 7, 16, 20; R. 2: 1 Peter 3: 15- 18; Gospel: John 14: 15- 21)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
When I was about ten years of age, my grandpa told me a story of an older lady who boarded a bus from my village to another village. When she got on the bus, she had a heavy bag, which she carried on her lap. The driver asked her to place her bag in the luggage compartment of the bus like everyone else, but she refused. She explained that she did not want to increase the burden on the bus. For her, by carrying her bag on her lap, she was making it easier for the bus.
What has this story to do with today’s Gospel passage? We will get there soon. Today’s gospel passage is a continuation of what we read last Sunday, which is from the first of the three farewell speeches of Jesus to his apostles at the Last Supper. He made this speech shortly after Judas left the room to put final touches on his evil plans to betray his master. It was a moment of intense emotions. Jesus was just a few steps to the cross, but his apostles still had no clue. Jesus then began to dictate his last testament or his last will to his closest friends as he was quite aware that his passion was at hand and would lead to his death.
When I was much younger, I wondered about the liturgical suitability of this reading at this time. These were words from Jesus before he died, but we are already in Easter Season, specifically, sixth Sunday since his resurrection, so why is the Church taking us back to what happened before his death? The answer is clear: a will is read and executed only after the death of the one who has dictated or written it. These words of Jesus contained in his last will were addressed to his apostles and disciples before his death, and the best time to understand them is during the Easter season; after his death and resurrection.
Prominent in this last will or testament of Jesus is his promise not to leave his disciples alone, and the promise to ask the Father to send His Spirit to be with them always. The gospel passage we just read referred to the Holy Spirit as “another Advocate.” The Greek word for this is Parakletos,which is not easy to translate to English. Some translate it as Comforter. Other translations include Helper, Advocate, One who pleads our course, Counselor, Someone to stand by you, etc.
Tracing the origin of this term can help us to appreciate better what the Holy Spirit does for us. In secular Greek, the term is used in connection with the help given at a legal trial. In Greece, the Parakletos was a person, usually an upright and blameless man called to stand next to the accused, who invites the sympathy of the judges in favor of the accused. This action of the Advocate stopped the prosecution, and no one dared to go on with the case. The Parakletos, therefore, is someone of noble character who stands beside somebody who is in difficulties and can rescue the person.
Jesus knew the challenges his disciples would face in his absence; he saw the persecution coming ahead; he saw the false accusation awaiting them, and so the best gift he would offer them was to send them a helper in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower them and to stand by them in times of false accusations and persecutions. The help that the Holy Spirit is to offer is not just restricted to the earthly legal system; it goes beyond that to the throne of God; for the chief accuser of Christians is the devil himself. The Book of Revelation 12:10 tells us something about what the devil does in these words:
Now the Salvation and the power and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Christ have come,
for the accuser of Our brethren has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
The devil tempts us and runs to God to accuse us of the sins we have committed. From the earlier verses of that passage, the devil was thrown down from heaven and lost all privileges attached to his former position. And so he took it upon himself to seduce human beings to join in his anguish, and this he does by tempting us to sin and going to God to accuse us. But, we have got one who is stronger, namely the Holy Spirit, who is the Parakletos that stands beside us to plead our course and to make up for our deficiencies in fulfillment of the promise made by Christ at the Last Supper.
Here lies the source of our comfort and strength as Christians. We cannot do anything good on our own. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we overcome the devil. We run into trouble when we behave like the older lady I talked to you about at the beginning of this homily. She got on the bus and carried her heavy bag on her lap. She was supposed to drop her bag in the luggage compartment of the bus to enable her to enjoy the ride, but she would not let go of her bag. As Christians, Jesus has invited us to let go of our burdens, to give our burdens to him, and to the Holy Spirit to enable us to enjoy our ride to eternity, but many times we would not. Our refusal to let go our our “luggage” leads to depression; it leads to our giving up to the extent of thinking of taking our own lives. In line with this promise of Jesus to rely on the Holy Spirit, Peter admonishes us to cast our burdens unto Jesus, for cares for us (cf. 1 Peter 5:7). As Christians, we may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future, and that is what keeps us going.
This call to rely on the Holy Spirit should not be misunderstood. It does not call for laziness; it does not mean that we should give up our responsibility. We do our part and let God have His way. The opening words of the gospel passage say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.” Our love for Christ should urge us to keep his commandments even as he assures us of the Advocate. We do our part, and we let God perfect it. Psalm 127:1 says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do its builders labor. Unless the Lord guards the city, in vain, does the guard stay awake.” And St. Augustine says, “Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you.” May our trust in God never put us to shame until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.