"We have an advocate with the Father" (1 John 2:1). What is John telling us? That the reign of God is like a courtroom where we're lucky enough to have Jesus as the lawyer who'll get the divine judge to let us off easy? That's a rough description of one widely held understanding of this reading and a general theory of salvation. But is it the only interpretation?
|Third Sunday of Easter|
|Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
1 John 2:1-5a
The Greek word translated here as "advocate" is directly related to the New Testament word paraclete, which can also be translated as comforter, consoler, intercessor, teacher and so on. Wikipedia, the go-to source for knowledge if not wisdom, tells us that advocacy is a "process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within the political, economic, and social systems and institutions."
So as we contemplate the risen Christ today, we're invited to consider Jesus as the Advocate. The obvious question is: For whom, and before whom, does he advocate? Now we're entering an area in which our readings may surprise us.
Just to get us in shape for that, let's go back to Peter's homily in the first reading from Acts 3. Addressing his fellow Jews, Peter calls them to repent and be converted.
Before he said that, he admitted his solidarity with the crowd; he was one among the many who acted in ignorance by somehow betraying Jesus. So in this scene we see Peter admitting that he's been in a terrible mess together with his coreligionists, but he's convinced that he's found the way out and he's trying to get them to join him in going there.
Peter's way out is not something he invented or created. The Resurrection narratives tell us that at first, he and the disciples found it hard to believe.
In today's Gospel, Jesus shows up in the midst of his disciples, though nobody saw him approach. It's a lot like his entrance through locked doors without so much as knocking (John 20:19). But the crux of the story is not Jesus' new ability to show up and disappear at will. In fact, his ability to arrive in their midst led to fear more than anything else. The most important point of this reading, as in the whole Gospel, is the message Jesus brought.
While the disciples were trying to sift through the strange experiences narrated by their trusted companions, while they were discounting women's tales and wondering about ghosts, Jesus became present among them offering "Shalom, peace." Then, facing head-on everything that terrified them -- suffering, punishment, vengeful spirits -- he said, "Look at my hands and feet ... touch me."
In effect, he was saying, "Look! I am the one you denied and left to suffer alone, and all I want now is to be with you and give you my peace."
This was the living message that brought them to metanoia, the conversion that's a turn-your-theology-and-life-upside-down new way of understanding what the creator God is up to in relationship with humanity.
When the disciples stood before the risen Christ who was offering them peace, the meaning of his message finally came through to them. Every concept of God the harsh judge disappeared as he pronounced that one word: "Peace." Now the disciples could truly recognize Jesus as the Advocate, the comforter. But their perspective had taken a 180-degree turn. Jesus wasn't the one who would plead for them before God, but the one God sent to plead with them.
As we celebrate Easter, these readings invite us to try to suspend our presuppositions and contemplate Jesus as the one sent by the Father to give us peace. They invite us to stand with Peter and the guilty crowd facing the risen Christ, whose only word to us is "Peace."
We need to let that word penetrate those parts of us blinded by ignorance and hardened by fear. We need to let him pour out that word over our own terrible and too often secret messes. That is how we allow Christ to be the Father's advocate in our life.
After we have spent time under his gaze, after that gaze has had its radical effect on our perspective, we may inquire what he asks of us, or in advocacy language, how he would like to influence us.
The answer will be as unique as each of us and as universal as what he asked of his disciples: Preach forgiveness to the whole world, beginning with your own world. As we do that, we will find that John's promise begins to take flesh in us and the love of God will come to its completion in us.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]