“The Advocates” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, May 14, 2023

This will be Fr. Bob’s last homily posted onto the website until August. Please keep Fr. Bob in your prayers.

I am an avid fan of any book or show that deals with the law. Perhaps because I studied Law at University way back when in England, but I am fascinated by stories about legal investigations and court cases. That is why my favorite gospel is that of St John, of which we have so many passages during the Easter season. John’s gospel reads like s court trial, but with a twist. To begin with, it appears as if Jesus is the one who is on trial. He is charged with claiming to be God, which amounts to blasphemy, if he is not God. We read in John chapter 5, verse 18 :” For this reason , the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.” It is up to Jesus to prove that he is “equal to God “, that he is in fact divine. So the first few chapters of John’s gospel have Jesus providing such evidence, or “signs” as they are called in the gospel, because they “point to “ the truth that Jesus is God. There are seven such “signs” or proofs in John’s gospel , including healing people on the point  of death (chapter 2) or from chronic sickness (chapter 5) , healing a blind man, (chapter 9) walking on water (chapter 6), feeding a multitude of 5000 people with just a few loaves and fishes (chapter 6) and finally raising a man, Lazarus, to life, after he had been dead four days (chapter 11). And, of course, his own resurrection from the dead (chapter 20).

 Along the way, Jesus also provides character witnesses to the fact that he is telling the truth, including God himself, the great patriarchs of the Jewish faith, Abraham and Moses, the Jewish Scriptures, the great revered prophet, John the Baptist. In the end, the evidence is so overwhelming that only those who are steeped so much in sin that they are spiritually blind, deaf and dumb, can doubt the truth of Jesus’ claims to be God come to earth. Even Nicodemus, on behalf of his fellow Pharisees, who are Jesus’ fiercest opponents, gives the game away, when he admits to Jesus in a secret meeting :”Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do unless God were with him” (John 3: 2) In other words, “we KNOW  that you are God, but we just cannot allow ourselves to admit the truth.” It is worth pausing here, brothers and sisters, to consider whether we are aware or not that there is an abundance of evidence from many sources that point to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, come down to earth from heaven,  who lived a fully human life, died a fully human death, but rose again from the dead, before ascending back to his Father’s side in heaven. That evidence is available for those who will take the trouble to seek it out. It is not secret, it is not hidden, it is not just for the theologians and scripture scholars to know about. That is why we have been showing episodes of ‘The Chosen” on Sunday evenings at St Philip’s because these stories about Jesus are real, not made up fantasies or delusions. Come along and see for yourselves.

I said that the gospel of John, which reads like a criminal trial, has a twist, and this is it. Having failed to show Jesus up to be a fraud, a charlatan, now his opponents will turn on us, his followers. Jesus himself warned us about this, when he tells his disciples: “If they persecuted me, they would persecute you; if they kept my word, they would keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him, the Father, who sent me” (John 15: 20-21) At least Jesus doesn’t pretend that we are going to have a fine old life here on earth while still being Christians. If we are sincere and active in our faith, persecution, opposition, will come to us. Who will defend us in such a case? This is where Jesus’ talk about “another advocate” comes in. An “advocate” is a legal term. It describes an attorney; one whose job is to present our defense against the world and our accusers and persecutors. Jesus describes this advocate, the Holy Spirit, in our gospel as “the Spirit of truth”, who will live within us and speak through us the truth, God’s truth, not the world’s truth, which so often is opposed to God’s truth. In numerous passages in the gospels, Jesus promises us the help of the Holy Spirit whenever we are called on to defend ourselves whenever our Catholic Christian faith is questioned, or attacked. For instance, in Luke 12: 11 – 12, Jesus promises us: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say”. Isn’t that fantastic, to know that we can always count on this help? 

You know, so many Catholics go very quiet when challenged about their faith, because they are afraid they don’t know much about it, and they think they will make a mess of it. But it is the Holy Spirit’s job to give us the knowledge and the words when we need them. In fact, a little later on from this passage in today’s gospel, we read about Jesus saying: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 26). That is why we need to be praying every day for God to continually pour out his Spirit upon us, so we are always ready , as St Peter tells us in our second reading today, to give “an accounting for the hope that is in you”. What is this hope, brothers and sisters? Well St Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Colossians when he says: “it is Christ within you, that is your hope of glory” (Colossians 1: 27). Christ is in you and me, brothers and sisters, through our baptism, he lives within us, breathes within us, loves within us. Because he is in us, and he is a living personal God, then, as Jesus declares in our gospel today, “we live also”. We live with the sure hope of spending eternal life with Jesus, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit, in heaven, which is already wonderfully good news. But even now, in the midst of all the suffering and distress and uncertainty of our lives, we have the sure hope that, because Jesus lives in us, we can overcome no matter what the world throws at us. “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” declares St Paul in the letter to the Romans: “will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” (Romans 8: 35, 37) St Paul certainly knew from personal experience, the truth of what he is declaring here. And so should we, brothers and sisters.

There may be some here who will say “Well, that may be true for others, but not for me. I am such a sinner, that I cannot expect God to help me “. But this is where Jesus’ talk of “another advocate” comes in. If there is a second advocate, the Holy Spirit, working for us against the world, and all its troubles, who is the first advocate, and what does he do for us?  St John, in his first letter, answers that for us :”if anyone does sin,” he says, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2: 1-2) . Jesus is our defender, our helper with the Father. How does that happen? In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer explains: “Jesus is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for us” (Hebrews 7:25) Did you get that, brothers and sisters” Jesus lives forever to make intercession for us” Forever. What is Jesus doing right now in heaven? He is making intercession for us. Whenever we sin, and we confess our sins to God the Father, right then and there, Jesus is by his side, advocating for us, pleading for us. We don’t need to try to justify ourselves or make excuses for our sins. And it is best that we don’t even try. We don’t need to, because Jesus is making the best possible defense for us to the Father. He is showing his wounds to the Father on our behalf and saying: “Father, I suffered, I died, and I rose again for this person who is now asking mercy for his sins. Forgive him, forgive her, for my sake” Do you think that the Father is going to ignore or refuse his son such a plea? Of course not.

 We have two advocates, two defenders, brothers and sisters, and they are the best in the business. Jesus is advocating for us with the Father in heaven each time we sin and confess ourselves. The Holy Spirit is advocating for us in the world every time we are challenged to make a defense of the reason why we believe and have such hope for ourselves. Who can say better than that? To quote St Paul’s letter to the Romans once again: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8: 31).