THE HELP OF HOPE
(A biblical reflection on THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER [Year A] – May 17, 2020)
Gospel Reading: John 14:15-21
First Reading: Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Psalms: Psalm 66:1-7,16,20; Second Reading: 1 Peter 3:15-18
The Scripture Text
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him, for He dwells with you, and will be in you.”
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:15-21 RSV)
When people face persecution (see today’s first reading), hope in the face of violent death is deeply puzzling to many people – particularly to those who aspire to kill not only the believers but what they believe in. What kind of hope is it that enables those who suffer to play music in the face of death? In the death of the martyr, the persecutor and the onlooker are always questioned by the hope that sees through death.
HOPE is the virtue hat enables us to look to the future with real confidence. It is not to be reduced to wishful thinking. We can all pass the time daydreaming, imagining a future that has nothing to do with reality. Wishful thinking has no bounds; it admits of no limitation; it is not criticized by what is actually possible. I can ask you to imagine a tartan elephant with six legs doing a highland fling. You can imagine that, but it would be foolish to hope that you will see it happen one day. Hope is grounded in life. As the Jewish writer Martin Buber observed: “hope imagines the real.” That is the difference between hope and wishful thinking.
Hope is not limitless; it is limited by real possibility. Hope needs help if it is going to go beyond the expression of desire. If you hope for peace, for example, your hope needs all the help it can get if it is to be more than a cherished wish. Without help, hope remains an orphan – abandoned in the nursery of the mind.
Jesus has no intention of leaving His disciples behind Him in a situation where they are left to hope without any help. Jesus promises where they are left to hope without any help. Jesus promises His followers the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who will be them forever. The power of the Holy Spirit is the help of Christian hope. Without the Holy Spirit, the followers of Jesus would be thrown back on their own resources, which are clearly inadequate when the going gets rough. The time of Jesus’ passion proved that. With the help of the Holy Spirit, however, the disciples can face the future with a power that is much larger than themselves. That power is the Holy Spirit, the gift of God Himself. The reality of the Holy Spirit is the ground of their hope.
Jesus warns the disciples that the world will not welcome the Holy Spirit “since it neither sees nor knows Him.” Nevertheless the Spirit of God will be in the disciples, even though so many people cannot recognize its presence. The only way the persecutors and onlookers will catch something of the reality of the Holy Spirit is when they see the courage and hope of the disciples in remaining steadfast in witness.
The hope of the disciples in something the world can see, but cannot account for. The disciples can account for their hope by pointing to the power of God’s Spirit which funds them. They know that the power is not their own. Without that Holy Spirit, there would be no music to puzzle the firing squad.
Finally Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit He promises will be given not only to the present disciples but to all those who love Him and keep His commandments. The Holy Spirit which will sustain them through persecution and martyrdom is the same Holy Spirit which is given to all who love Jesus. That promise is extended to each of us in our own struggle in faith. And that is why we are called on by the Church to pray again for a renewal in the Spirit at Pentecost. With that Spirit in us we can continue the ancient Christian practice of puzzling people with the hope that is in us.
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, it is indeed a terrifying experience to be left all alone in life. Because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, however, we need not have that experience, only if we learn to turn to You with simple earnest prayer in all the aspects of our lives with a great hope. We pray this in the most precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Jakarta, 15 May 2020
A Christian Pilgrim