Homily May 15th, 2023

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter – Jn 15:26—16:4a

In today’s Gospel Christ continues the Last Supper discourse, encouraging His disciples not only with the promise of the Holy Spirit, but also by forewarning them about the difficulties that are to come. For us as Catholics, and especially for religious, the passage serves both as encouragement and as a warning.

First, Christ offers some words of encouragement, so that, as He says, “you may not fall away.” More properly, the verb σκανδαλίζω means “to set a snare”; it means to be so shocked or scandalized at something, real or invented, that a person is prevented from doing the right thing.[1] It’s a verb that derives from the Greek σκάνδαλον, meaning, stumbling block, from which we get our English word scandal. Christ mentions two evils that will befall His disciples that could cause them to fall: first, they will be expelled from the synagogues, and, second, they will be killed.

Being expelled from the synagogue would have been very hard for the disciples, since the synagogue was a model of the temple, and it formed the center of their prayer and worship. To be rejected from it was to be forgotten, or on the fringes of religious society. What’s even more tragic, though, as Saint Augustine points out, it means that the Jews will refuse to convert; otherwise, the synagogues would’ve become churches.[2] Perhaps the Apostles thought of their family members, their relatives, and friends, all of whom would turn their backs and refuse to believe; it’s not easy to keep going when the ones we love do their own thing, and turn their back on what we’re doing and reject what we preach.

Secondly, the disciples will also suffer because “the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” The word for everyone is emphatic, meaning, not just the Jews, but each and every person, Jew, Gentile, atheist, even fellow Christian, the fellow believer, who kills you, will think that what they do is latreian (λατρείαν), a technical word used for priestly service and sacrifices.[3] It is the epitome of distorted thinking, to kill thinking you’re doing God a favor, and that could be killing in the broad sense of the term, by spreading rumors, lying, slander, gossip, and so on. Yet that word hour, which is loaded with meaning,reminds us that these things, too, fall under God’s providence. No suffering or trial escapes His providential vision and wisdom.

There’s also a warning for us. Jesus tells His disciples that those who kill them “will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.” That phrase, have not known, is perhaps better rendered, they did not recognize. The verb means a personal, first hand, sort of knowledge, not just some abstract consideration.[4] As it’s used here, it means that the persecutors had the opportunity of knowing; they could have known God, but failed.[5] They refused, and there’s a special emphasis here on knowing the Father and Christ His Son.

We can apply these two points to our lives. First, on the large scale, we know that Christ knows everything; there’s no suffering or scandal that He hasn’t foreseen, and there’s nothing that He can’t get good out of, no matter how bad it seems. There’s really no need to be scandalized at the things that happen in this world; we just need to set our sights on Christ, and continue moving forward. Likewise, on a much, much smaller scale and in an analogous way, we’re reminded that Christ allows these sufferings as part of His providential plan to make us saints. In her Diary, Saint Faustina writes, “In order to purify a soul, Jesus uses whatever instruments he likes. My soul underwent a complete abandonment on the part of creatures; often my best intentions were misinterpreted by the sisters, a type of suffering which is most painful; but God allows it, and we must accept it because in this way we become more like Jesus” (38). Elsewhere she adds, “Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized; the greater the suffering, the purer the love” (57).

The warning, too, is useful for us, since we’re reminded that we must try to see things in light of God’s providence and His love for us in all its manifestations. To reject such things as obedience, for instance, is, when all is said and done, to reject and distort our vision of God. As Saint John Climacus wrote, “He who follows his own ideas in opposition to the direction of his superiors needs no devil to tempt him, for he is a devil to himself.” To kill others thinking it is an act of worship is an aberration, but not as great an aberration as a religious who willfully decides to reject obedience. Christ tells us that the first doesn’t know God, but the second knows neither God, nor themselves, nor the reason for their existence and their vocation.

Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of the Risen Lord, let us ask for the grace to trust in God’s providence and His love for us, and to show that trust through obedience.

[1] HELPS Word-studies: 4624 skandalízō – properly, set a snare (“stumbling-block”); (figuratively) “to hinder right conduct or thought; to cause to stumble” – literally, “to fall into a trap” (Abbott-Smith). See 4625 (skandalon).

[2] Tract. in Io., 93, ch. 3, col. 1866; cf. Catena Aurea, 16:1-4.

[3] HELPS Word-studies: 2999 latreía (from 3000 /latreúō, “render sacred service”) – sacred (technical) service. 2999 /latreía (“technical, priestly-service”)

[4] HELPS Word-studies 1097 ginṓskō – properly, to know, especially through personal experience (first-hand acquaintance).

[5] Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges



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