"Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (26 May 2019)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Jnat-cathedral-mosaic2

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But 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. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe (John 14:23-29 – NRSV).

Introductory notes

General

The theme of Jesus’ departure is continued here. Other significant Johannine themes are also present: love; the Father and the Son making their home in us; power of the word; the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who will continue the work of Jesus; Jesus’ special gift of peace; do not be afraid; believing Jesus.

Specific

love: The Geek verb is agapaō. Though this verb is used in varying ways throughout John and the Christian Scriptures – for example, in John 3:19 it is used of those who behave in a way that is “evil”: “people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” – it is predominantly used to describe the highest form of love. In the Christian Scriptures the highest form of love is the love God manifests: “Charity (love) is the variegated and exclusive work of a totally living faith (Galatians 5:6 & 22): he who loves not his brother, whom he sees, is unable to love God whom he does not see” (1 John 4:20-21). This love is essentially religious, of a completely different spirit from simple philanthropy. First because of its model: imitation of the love God Himself (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 5:1-2 & 25; 1 John 4:11-12). Next it is different because of its source, for it is the work of God in us: how would we be merciful like the heavenly Father (Luke 6:36) if the Lord did not teach us (1 Thessalonians 4:9), if the Spirit did not spread it in our hearts (Romans 5:5; 15:30)? This love comes from God and exists in us from the very fact that God took us for His son (John 4:7). Having come from God, this love returns to Him. In loving our brothers, we love the Lord Himself (Matthew 25:40), since we all together form the body of Christ (Romans 12:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Such is the manner in which we can respond to the love with which God has first loved us (1 John 3:16; 4:19-20) (Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by Xavier Léon-Dufour, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1972, 287). Love is also “gift” and “communion” (Ibid).

my Father will love them etc: This is a classic statement from John. See also the parable of the vine – 15:1-19. “Of the person who so loves and obeys Jesus, Jesus himself promises, My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home (monē) with him. Thus, while Jesus leaves his disciples in order to prepare in his Father’s house ‘dwelling-places’ (cf. v. 2) for his followers, he simultaneously joins with the Father (their equality is implicit) in making a ‘dwelling-place’ in the believer. Presumably this manifestation of the Father and the Son in the life of the believer is through the Spirit, although the text does not explicitly say so. Other New Testament passages testify to the dwelling of the Son in the Christian (e.g. Eph. 3:17); this is the only place where the Father and the Son are linked in this task. Those who think that the Father and the Son are present in the believer only through the Holy Spirit see the indwelling in this verse as indistinguishable from the gift of the Spirit. Others join with Augustine in thinking that this text coupled with vv. 25–26 argues for the indwelling of the Triune God in the believer (In Johan. Tract. lxxvi.4)” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 504).

the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name: The English word “Advocate” – from the Latin ad vocatus, meaning “called to (one’s side/aid)” and having clear legal reference – is used to translate the Greek paraklētos (παρακλητος). The Greek word is found four times in John’s Gospel (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7) and once in 1 John 2:1, but nowhere else in the Christian Scriptures. The significance of the word paraklētos as used in the Gospel of John is not entirely clear. One scholar writes: “ .... it is best to stick to the anglicized ‘Paraclete’, which provides a distinct and recognizable name for the personage identified in the farewell discourse as ‘the spirit of truth’ (14:17; 15:26; 16:13) or ‘the Holy Spirit’ (14:26), thus performing for English-speaking readers the same service as paraklētos for readers of the original Greek and Paracletus for the readers of Jerome’s Vulgate.” (J Ashton, “Paraclete”, in D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 5), Doubleday, 1992, 152.)

Peace I leave with you: The Greek word is eirēnē, reflecting the Hebrew šâlōm. This is a customary greeting and word of farewell. Here it is a word of farewell. After the resurrection the same word will be used as a greeting – see 20:19, 21 & 26. “Peace is one of the fundamental characteristics of the messianic kingdom anticipated in the Old Testament (Nu. 6:26; Ps. 29:11; Is. 9:6–7; 52:7; 54:13; 57:19; Ezk. 37:26; Hg. 2:9) and fulfilled in the New (Acts 10:36; Rom. 1:7; 5:1; 14:17). ‘The new order is simply the peace of God in the world’ (Hoskyns, p. 461). At the individual level, this peace secures composure in the midst of trouble, and dissolves fear, as the final injunction of this verse demonstrates. This is the peace which garrisons our hearts and minds against the invasion of anxiety (Phil. 4:7), and rules or arbitrates in the hearts of God’s people to maintain harmony amongst them (Col. 3:15) (D A Carson, op cit, 506-507).

Reflection

In today’s Gospel – John 14:23-29 – we read the words of Jesus: ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ What are we to make of such a statement? On the face of it, it looks very much like a simple contradiction. It helps to remember the limits of language!

Fr Austin (“The Doc”) Woodbury SM started the Aquinas Academy in March 1945. “The Doc” was brilliant and eccentric. He used to say that our language about God is “likey, notty and morey”. So, if for example we say, “God is love” we are actually saying, “God is like what we mean by love; God is however not that but infinitely more than that”. The affirmation is necessarily accompanied by a negation.

The Tradition speaks of two ways of knowing God. Firstly, the “kataphatic way’’. The Greek kata, means ‘thoroughly’ or ‘entirely’, and phanai means ‘speak’. Thus kataphasis means ‘affirmation’. Secondly, the “apophatic way”. The Greek roots apo, meaning ‘from’ or ‘away’ and therefore some kind of negation or breakdown, and phanai meaning ‘speak’, thus apophasis meaning ‘negation’. “It is in the profusion of our affirmations that we encounter the limits of language, and then break through them into the dark silence of transcendence. .... It is through the fissures in our discourse that the darkness of the apophatic is glimpsed” (Denys Turner, The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism, Cambridge University Press, 1995, 32 & 33). When it comes to the things that matter in life, language – sooner or later – leads us to silence. Silent wonder is a way of knowing. We cannot claim to truly know until or unless we have experienced the profundity of not knowing.

There is something comparable in the Zen tradition. They have koans – statements or stories deliberately designed to catch the rational mind off guard so that the true mind can be enlightened: “Two monks on a journey came to a river with no bridge across it. As they were about to begin to ford it, a young woman came up. The first monk was just going to offer to carry her across, when the second said to her: ‘Get on my back and I’ll carry you over.’ She did so and parted from them gracefully on the other side. After the two monks had walked on for a few miles, the first monk, unable to contain himself any longer, burst out, ‘What did you mean by carrying that girl across the river? You know monks are allowed to have nothing to do with women!’ The other said, with a smile, ‘You must be tired, carrying that girl all this way. I put her down as soon as we got to the other side of the river’” (Cited in Aelred Graham, Zen Catholicism, Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963, 68).

The apophatic way of knowing – whether it is via a Zen koan or a story from the Desert Fathers or a statement from the Gospels – demands that we wait upon the text. Sit and stare and listen.