ColumnsSunday’s Word

The word reaches Samaria

May 17, 2020


Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

The word reaches Samaria

Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20

Let all the earth cry out

1 Pt 3:5-18

Tips for explaining your faith

Jn 14:15-21

Another advocate


In the Easter season, each of the readings follow their own trajectory. Acts of the Apostles traces the movement out from Jerusalem into the larger world. Today, we find ourselves halfway through the first letter of Peter. And the Supper Discourses of John’s Gospel continue.

In Acts, we have finally left Jerusalem, and Philip takes us to Samaria. Like Stephen, Philip is in the group of seven deacons (Acts 6:5). Stephen has been martyred, and Philip carries on.

Today, we see for the first time something that becomes a pattern in Acts. As the Jesus movement reaches out into the world, Acts presents it in stages, represented by Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesarea and Ephesus. It begins in Jerusalem, but each stage extends farther out.

And each stage is marked by three phenomena. First, there is the baptism of converts (2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). Secondly, echoing the Pentecost story, we have an outflowing of the Holy Spirit upon the communities (2:4; 8:17; 10:44; 19:6). Finally, there is always mention of a connection with the Jerusalem community (2:5; 8:25; 11:2; 19:21).

The consistency of this pattern suggests that Luke, the author of Acts, wishes to describe the network of relationships linking the expanding movement. Individuals are baptized. They in turn are members of a community, which experiences its own outpouring of the Spirit. And that community is recognized by the central authority in Jerusalem, and the Council of Apostles. Individuals, local communities, one church centered in Jerusalem.

We have come to the midpoint of 1 Peter. And here we find a central concern of this letter, namely, how to respond to persecution as experienced by the early church. It is a model of nonviolent response. Calmly state your belief. Stand with the truth. Do not respond in kind to malignant attacks. Suffer rather than inflict suffering. The lesson of the Resurrection — for after all we are in the Easter season — is the assurance that life will prevail. And with it, the truth.

In the Gospel of John, today’s reading picks up where last week’s left off. We are at the beginning of the farewell discourse of Jesus at the supper, Chapters 14-17. Last week, we heard that Jesus is departing and that he is preparing a place for his disciples. Today, we hear that he is also readying a continued presence among them here in the between-time. He is sending an Advocate, the Spirit of truth. They will not be left orphans. The support of the Spirit in difficult times echoes the concerns of 1 Peter.

The assurance of support by the Advocate in today’s passage is framed by words about the commandment of love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And later, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father.”

Later on we will hear, “This is my commandment: that you love one another just as I have loved you” (15:12). However, this is not as simple or easy as it may sound, since Jesus also says, immediately following these words, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13). Which is of course what is about to happen for him, and is the reason this is a farewell address.

While there is no obvious central theme for this Sunday, we see the Scripture readings drawing out the implications of the season, each in its own direction. All are originally contained in the seminal experience of Easter, now unfolding in time and space.

For reflection: Easter changes everything. Its ripples reach out further and further, even reaching our own time and personal place.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.