Studying God’s Word

Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
John 14:23-29 [57C]
The readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter discuss the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believing community. As Jesus assured his disciples, the Holy Spirit would be present to the early church as it sought to discern God’s will.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles presents a portion of the debate that ensued at the Council of Jerusalem, likely dated to around AD 48. (See Acts 15:1-29 for a full account of the council meeting.) What prompted this gathering in Jerusalem was the question of whether or not to force Gentile believers in Christ to undergo male circumcision; in other words, should Gentiles who profess faith in Jesus be required to follow Jewish practices and customs. The remarkable success of Paul’s missionary outreach to the Gentiles probably prompted the question. Luke records the major figures from the early church (Paul and Barnabas as the “apostles” to the Gentiles and Peter and James as the “apostles” to the Jews, along with other apostles and elders) meeting to resolve what some Jews in Judea were pushing: “Unless you [Gentiles] are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Today’s reading includes the decision (and really compromise) reached at the Council of Jerusalem: enforcing male circumcision of the Gentile believers would not be required. Only a few “necessities” were expected of the Gentiles—abstaining from meat offered to idols or meats from strangled animals, from blood, and from unlawful marriages. The apostles on both sides of the debate agreed that this was “the decision of the Holy Spirit.” 
The second reading continues to detail the final vision from the Revelation of John. In today’s reading we hear about the heavenly Jerusalem that John sees in the aftermath of the final judgment and the end-time. Much of the description of the heavenly Jerusalem comes from the Book of Ezekiel 40–48, where during captivity in Babylon in the spring of 573 BC, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the new Temple and a restored Israel. Significant to John’s vision is the absence of the Temple in the heavenly Jerusalem. Within Jewish tradition, the divine was believed to reside in the Temple. But in the age to come, for believers, God would dwell directly among them, and so there will be no need for a Temple to house God. In John’s vision, “the Lord God almighty and the Lamb” is the Temple where the “glory of God” would be seen by all.
In the Gospel reading from John, we continue to hear from Jesus’ farewell discourse with the disciples. Jesus speaks of “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name.” Just as the Father sent the Son to the disciples, so, too, according to Jesus, the Father will send the Holy Spirit to the disciples to “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Equally important, the Holy Spirit will bring a sense of peace to the believing community: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” The peace of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit.Jesus concludes his discussion of the Holy Spirit by reacting to the concern of the disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Jesus, in fact, challenges them to “rejoice” that he is “going to the Father.” With the reunion of the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit will arrive and be fully present to the church. In this way, the community of faithful will come to “believe” in the triune God.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz