Gospel for Pentecost Sunday (20 May 2018)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26–27 – NRSV).
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (Jn 16:12–15 – NRSV)
[This text is the first option for the Mass during the day of Pentecost.]
The Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son to continue the work of Jesus: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf”. In John 10:30 we have heard Jesus say: “The Father and I are one”. The intimacy of the Father and Son is a feature of John’s Gospel. Father, Son and Spirit share the one mission.
Advocate: The Greek word is paraklētos. It is one of the great words of John’s Gospel where it is used as a title of the Holy Spirit in 14:16, 14:26, 15:26 and 16:7. Also, it is applied to Jesus who “pleads our cause before the Father” (1 John 2:1). However, the word presents some challenges for the translators. It may be translated as “intercessor”, “helper” or “advocate” or similar English expressions such as “one who stands by you” or “one who comes to your aid”. Sometimes the Greek word is kept as an English word – Paraclete. Its most common usage in Greek is in reference to legal matters.
John Wycliffe (1330s – 1384) favoured the word “comforter”. It should be noted however that key to the English word “comforter” as used by Wycliffe, is the Latin word fortis meaning “strong” or “powerful”. Thus, Wycliffe leans towards Luke’s understanding when he uses the Greek word dunamis of the Spirit, meaning “power” – see Luke 1:35 and 24:49. We get our word dynamite from that Greek word! William Barclay writes: “Parakalein is the word of the rallying-call; it is the word used of the speeches of leaders and of soldiers who urge each other on. It is the word used of words which send fearful and timorous and hesitant soldiers and sailors courageously into battle. A paraklētos is therefore an encourager, one who puts courage into the faint-hearted, one who nerves the feeble arm for fight, one who makes a very ordinary man cope gallantly with a perilous and a dangerous situation. Here then we have the great work of the Holy Spirit. To put it in modern language, the Holy Spirit makes men able to cope with life. The Holy Spirit is in fact the fulfilment of the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world’ (Matt. 28.20).” (William Barclay, New Testament Words (The William Barclay Library) (Kindle Locations 3502-3505). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.)
The Spirit of truth: The Greek word, alētheia – meaning “truth” – is an important one for John. Jesus is the truth – see John 14:6. Jesus is the revelation of God’s plan. John is not talking of theological propositions or articles of faith. He is speaking of the Father’s intentions and plan being wrought in Him. “God so loved the world he gave his only son!” (John 3:16). The Spirit of truth is the Spirit of God – the God of the Covenant. The Spirit will complete the mission Jesus has been about.
You also are to testify: The disciples – then and now – are drawn into the work of the Spirit. This could be interpreted as an imperative – that is, you must testify – or a statement of fact – that is, if you abide in me, and I abide in you, your very existence will testify to Jesus and therefore the Father’s mission. The later phrase reiterates this idea: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
he will not speak on his own: This echoes Jesus’ statement earlier: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34). The disciple must never forget that he/she is about the Father’s mission. It is God’s work!
In Vienna, on a September morning in 1927, two of the truly great thinkers of the twentieth century met: Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Binswanger. The two were friends and both were deeply committed to understanding the human condition. Binswanger recalls how he suggested to his friend, that the reason a patient may not be able to take the necessary step beyond pathological behaviour might be “a ‘deficiency of spirit’, that is, an inability .... to raise himself to the level of ‘spiritual communication’ with the physician” (From Selected Papers of Ludwig Binswanger: Being in the World, Translated by Jacob Needleman, A Condor Book, 1963, 182). Binswanger continues: “I could hardly believe my ears when I heard him say, ‘Yes, spirit is everything’. ....’Mankind has always known that it possesses spirit; I had to show it that there are also instincts’” (Ibid).
“Encouraged by this admission”, Binswanger writes, “I went a step further, explaining that I found myself forced to recognize in man something like a basic religious category; that, in any case, it was impossible for me to admit that ‘the religious’ was a phenomenon that could somehow be derived from something else”. At which suggestion Freud declared curtly, “religion originates in the helplessness and anxiety of childhood and early manhood”. Freud then went to his desk and produced a manuscript he was about to publish: “The Future of an Illusion” – an articulation of his view of religion.
Freud’s view – profoundly contradictory as it is – has come to dominate the modern Western mind-set and, in particular, contemporary Australian culture. Freud’s claim that he had to “show (humanity) that there are also instincts” is both true and wise. And his intuition is profound that, “‘Spirit is everything’ .... ‘Mankind has always known that it possesses spirit’”. But this intuition conflicts with his materialistic ideology. Sadly the ideology won out.
We know what people mean when they say: “That school has a great spirit” or “There is a marvelous spirit in this family”. We also know what people mean when they say: “There is a bad spirit in that place” or “There is a spirit of meanness in this group”. “Spirit” is very elusive. But it is also very real. A good spirit in a person or group is the result of good values embodied over time by repeated behaviours. Thus, when we are habitually caring, generous, forgiving, compassionate and so on, we embody those values and radiate them as “spirit”.
Thomas Merton’s observation is helpful: “We exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany” (“A Letter on the Contemplative Life”). God is the source of all that is good and true. A “good spirit”, present through any person or group, is a manifestation of God’s Presence. It is an outpouring of God’s Spirit, a tiny experience of Pentecost. This outpouring of the Spirit of God can be anywhere, anytime. It is up to us really.