21st May. Monday of the 7th Week of Easter
Acts 19:1ff. In Ephesus, followers of John the Baptist become full members of the church.
John 16:29ff. Close to his Passion, Jesus says “Take courage; I have conquered the world!”
“I am speaking to you plainly,” he said, yet the plain language of Jesus’ discourse in John’s gospel still baffles us. Why will the disciples find peace in Jesus, once they are scattered, and Jesus is left alone? How does such a disintegration of loyalties and friendship convince the disciples that Jesus knows everything and has come from God?
When we read this gospel along with the selection from Acts, the “plain” language is scrambled still more as the disciples speak in tongues and prophesy. Such an extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit draws us beyond rational discourse. When God’s Spirit descends into our midst in such a way, we can do one of two things: either declare it all a hoax and walk away, or acknowledge that God is present, beyond all doubt and beyond all discussion. Earlier in the Acts of the Apostles, when a group of gentiles began to speak in tongues, Peter declared: “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized with water?” (Acts 10:47). And when Peter was later challenged about it his only defence was: “the Holy Spirit came upon them … Who was I to interfere with him?” (Acts 11:15,17). The Church was left with no other option but to accept this intervention of the Holy Spirit.
Normally, plain speech functions in a different way. It moves with clear ideas and in logical sequence. We are able to obtain further clarification and more nuanced reasons. We can express our difficulties about the logic. If our minds are alert and if we are able to express our ideas clearly, we are in control. Unless logical reasons are presented, we will remain unconvinced and uncommitted. We are free to accept or reject on the logic of the reasoning.
Tongues and prophecy, on the contrary, reach beyond the limits of logic and plain speech. Tongues are an ecstatic expression of the experience of the Holy Spirit. Tongues reach into foreign languages and beyond, like the many stops of an organ, opened up in full power, as the fingers touch one key after another. The sound is overwhelmingly beautiful, so much so that it drowns out and prohibits the accompanying sound of a singer’s words. Communication is more by experience; it happens by touching the strings of emotion and the memory fibers in the heart. Such reactions are not subject to logic; they just happen! And if they happen, one can only say: yes! amen! hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Or as Peter responded: “the Holy Spirit came upon them…. Who was I to interfere?”
Jesus’ plain speech touches that divinely inspired gift in all of us to act beyond reason (not against reason) and to do what can be explained only afterwards as healthy, beautiful and good. Even though the disciples scattered and left Jesus alone, still Jesus then manifested such strength and resourcefulness, that all will confess: we are not alone; Jesus and the Father are with us. At no time does Jesus’ example of forgiving others call us to forgive so heroically as in the story of his Passion. Jesus exemplifies the plain speech of forgiving seventy times seven (Matt 18:22) and of loving to the extent of dying for one’s friends (John 15:13).
First Reading: Acts 19:1-8
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied – altogether there were about twelve of them.
He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.
Gospel: John 16:29-33
His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”