No doubt Sunday's first and second readings
were chosen to help us prepare for the soon-to-be-celebrated feast of
Accustomed to a hierarchical authority
structure and one approved theological system, we're often amazed at how
the sacred authors emphasize the Spirit's work in the everyday activities
of Jesus' first followers. We're uncomfortable with such a constantly
On the other hand, we probably feel "at
home" when we hear Luke narrate how the newly-baptized Samaritans
received the Holy Spirit through Peter and John's imposed hands (Acts 8:
5-8, 14-17). Yet, as Richard Dillon explains in the New Jerome Biblical
Commentary, Luke is not trying to convey an "'early Catholic'
conception; the Spirit is not controlled by ritual or office."
Spirit at work
At this point in salvation history, the third
evangelist is simply trying to show that "the Holy Spirit operates only
where there is communion with the apostles, who as 'witnesses of Jesus'
resurrection,' certify the risen one's continued activity on
That's why this passage is an exception to
Luke's "normal theology" that the Spirit comes with (or even
before) Baptism. Without Jesus' dying and rising, there is no Spirit.
The conviction that the risen Jesus is
constantly active in the Christian community determines how John narrates
some of Jesus' Last Supper words (Jn 14: 15-21). "If you love
me," Jesus promises, "and obey the commands I give you, I will ask
the Father and He will give you another Paraclete to be with you always: the
Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, since it neither sees Him nor
recognizes Him; but you can recognize Him because He remains with you and
will be within you."
Shortly before His death, Jesus assures His
followers that they're not going to be alone. They'll carry on His
ministry with His Spirit operating within them. Yet, remember what He says
about the "world" not being able to recognize the Spirit.
Though His Spirit permeates the universe, only
those who obey "Jesus' commands" are able to surface and fall
back on the Spirit's help. In other words, only those who attempt to
become other dying and rising Christs will perceive the Spirit around and
Listen carefully to the advice in the second
reading (1 Peter 3: 15-18) to the newly baptized in his community.
"Venerate... Christ in your hearts," he writes. "Should
anyone ask you the reason for this hope of yours, be ever ready to reply,
but speak gently and respectfully." Jesus is so much a part of them
that His dying and rising comes through even in the way they respond to
questions about their faith.
The author goes on to say that those who
imitate Jesus are constantly mirroring His death and resurrection.
"If it should be God's will that you
suffer," he adds, "it is better to do so for good deeds than for
evil ones. This is why Christ died for sins once for all, the just one for
the sake of the unjust: so that He lead you to God."
Now it makes sense why Luke calls on those who
witnessed Jesus' death and resurrection to bring the Spirit down on the
Samaritans. No theological system or Church office can replace the power
that enters our lives when we die and rise with Jesus. The Apostles are
witnesses of this phenomenon in Acts; the whole community causes it to
happen in John.
Given human nature, some of us will always try
to replace the dying-rising heart of early Christian faith with theological
systems or Church structures. Such individuals are content to pray for the
Spirit to enter their lives only while they're taking school exams.
Those who refuse to die and rise with Jesus
constantly keep the Spirit at arm's length. It's the only way they can
continue to call themselves Christian without actually imitating Jesus'
death and resurrection.