This Sunday’s readings focus on the commitment needed to respond to the Lord’s call, a reminder that true faith comes from the heart. The Gospel tells of the wholehearted commitment required by Jesus of his followers – not coercion, as suggested by James and John. Jesus makes the three who come forward aware of what following him really means: it is not to be imagined as a part-time or ‘easy’ option. Jesus does not want his disciples to hesitate. In the First Reading, Elisha responds quickly to being ‘anointed’ by Elijah. He shows his desire to serve the Lord by leaving his livelihood and home, empty-handedly following Elijah. In the Second Reading, St Paul emphasises the importance of freedom. However, he warns the Galatians, and us too, that this is not an excuse for self-indulgence. The Spirit will guide us so that we love our neighbours as ourselves. Living in freedom encourages us to take total responsibility for our own lives, rather than blame others for any personal difficulties. If, like the Psalmist, we trust and follow the Lord’s path of life, it will lead us to eternal joy. Let’s pray this week for the grace of freedom in being able to accept unconditionally God’s will for us.
In the Eucharist, Christ is present not simply in the consecrated bread and wine, but as the one who forgives, speaks, feeds, gathers together and makes present his offering on the Cross. In this fuller understanding of the Eucharist, Christ is present in the bread and wine because he is active in the Church. In the Eucharist he calls us to prayer and reverence. He also calls us to follow his way in feeding the poor and giving spirit to the excluded and in taking up our own cross.
In the Gospel, Jesus looks to the future when he will no longer be physically present to the disciples. He assures them that their privileged sharing in the intimacy of the relationship between himself and the Father will not cease but continue through the gift of the Spirit. The ‘truth’ which the Spirit communicates is truth in the Johannine sense of the definitive revelation of God given to the world in the person of Jesus. The truth is ultimately the revelation that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:7, 16).
In John’s Gospel, the Spirit is called ‘The Advocate’ or ‘The Paraclete,’ and the role of the Spirit is to teach and remind the disciples of Jesus’ words. These are functions that happen within a community where people gather to share stories, to ask questions, to try to find meaning in the events of their lives. Jesus promises that when Christians gather for this purpose they will not be alone. Jesus promises that he, and the God he calls ‘Father’, will make their home with us, and the Spirit will be there to guide and enlighten us.
The Feast of the Ascension is a vision of the future and an act of hope. The forces hostile to God and to true humanity have by no means yet been fully overcome. The essential blow has been struck in the Paschal victory of Jesus but his messianic work continues as he breathes his Spirit into the Church that carries on his mission. What the Church must understand – what the Ascension assures her – is that accompanying all her labour and suffering is the victory of her risen Lord, who now stands at the right hand of God interceding on behalf of all. It is the feast that celebrates the hope that his triumph will ultimately be ours as well.
The gospel emphasises the link between love and obedience, and it speaks of the presence of God with the one who loves. It provides us with a partial view of the internal relationships within the Trinity. It also reports Jesus’ farewell wish of peace. Self-sacrificing love is the fundamental message of Jesus. Those who love as Jesus did will in turn be loved by his Father. This passage provides us a glimpse of the intimacy between Jesus and his Father. Jesus was sent by his Father and it is to his Father that he will return. Jesus proclaims the word of his Father and his Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ words end on a note of assurance. He bequeaths his peace. This is more than a wish, it is a blessing that includes all of the benefits of the resurrection.
The small section of John 13 that we read this week lies at the heart of the Johannine Gospel message ‘Love as I have loved’. To be a Christian is to live and to love, with Jesus as the measure of what life and love look like. The Gospel mentions Judas and if we are to understand what Jesus means by love we need to remember that up until this stage in the Gospel Judas has been present. He is one of Jesus’ own who gather for his final meal. Judas has had his feet washed by Jesus and received from Jesus’ hand the morsel of bread. Jesus willingly gives of himself even to one who will betray him. This is Jesus’ definition of love – a giving of self even when that will not be reciprocated, even when that love will be rejected and betrayed.
The characterisation of Jesus as the Good Shepherd points to the relationship Jesus has with those who follow him, as well as the relationship he has with God. The image of Jesus as shepherd implies intimate knowledge on the part of both Jesus and his followers and unquestioning trust on the part of the followers. Jesus promises that he will give eternal life to his sheep, and that he will not allow anyone to take them away from him. He can promise eternal life, because he has power over death. Jesus consistently calls God Father, the Trinitarian designation that signifies distinction in divine union. It is clear that all that Jesus says and does is the actual embodiment of God’s will and not just behaviour that is in conformity with it. The shepherd who cares for the sheep is indeed one with God.
The disciples set out to fish at night and in the darkness they catch nothing. Then, when the dawn comes they see Jesus, named in this Gospel the Light of the world. Relying on the word of Jesus, the disciples’ efforts bear fruit and in the wonder of this bountiful result, the presence of the Lord is recognised. The breakfast by the lake recalls the earlier feeding miracle in John 6 where Jesus took five loaves and two fish and fed a great crowd. The miracle in John 6 and this meal are Eucharistic in their symbolism. Jesus is present in the midst of the disciples even though his presence is not immediately recognised. Jesus is the host inviting his disciples to eat the food he has prepared for them and for us. This lakeside feeding reflects the living experience of the Christian community. When they gather for Eucharist, they are in touch with the Risen Jesus who continues to guide and nourish them. Can we also recognise the Risen One present in our lives and nourishing us in the Eucharist?
The problem for Thomas is the problem that all later Christians face. Can we believe the Easter Gospel when we do not see the body of the Risen One? There is a Thomas within all of us, wanting to believe but sometimes finding faith difficult. Thomas’ response is not to reach out to touch Jesus, but rather to recognise now the fullness of Jesus’ divinity; ‘My Lord and my God.’ Only in John’s Gospel do we find such an absolute statement of Jesus’ divinity. The final words of Jesus in this Gospel reach past Thomas to us, as Jesus pronounces a blessing for those who do not see and yet believe. The evangelist also reaches across time to us when he writes, ‘These things are written that you may believe.’ The presence of Jesus, his words, and the words of this Gospel writer live on in the Christian communities of our time. Whenever Christians gather, Jesus rises in our midst. Not even our fears and doubts are sufficient barriers, for Jesus comes to frightened and disbelieving disciples. The Easter gifts of peace and the Spirit are now available to all and blessed indeed are those who believe.