Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (17 May 2020)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:15-21 – NRSV)
Today’s Gospel brings together three essential themes in John’s Gospel: “Love” and “obedience” and the power of the “Advocate” to ensure the possibility of both. This is not an appeal to will power – “Get out there and love people!” and “Do as you are told!” – but rather an invitation to accept the graciousness of God, abundantly available in Jesus Christ.
We also hear the recurring themes of “abiding”, “seeing” and “truth”.
If you love me ...: One scholar observes that this phrase “controls the grammar of the next two verses (15–17a), and the thought of the next six (15–21)”. (C. K. Barrett, The Gospel according to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and notes on the Greek Text (SPCK, 1978, 461.) This is the first time in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak to the disciples of their love for him. It is a statement of fact: If there is love there, then ....... It is definite though: If this then that, if not this then not that.
my commandments: It is not entirely clear what is meant by this phrase. One scholar suggests that “commandments” is “not simply an array of discrete ethical injunctions, but the entire revelation from the Father, revelation holistically conceived (cf. 3:31–32; 12:47–49; 17:6)”. (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 498.)
Advocate: The Greek word is paraklēton, meaning helper, advocate or intercessor. It is related to the verb “parakaleō, (which means) ‘to call alongside’, and hence ‘to encourage’, ‘to exhort’”. (D A Carson, op cit, 499.) In the world of Jesus, the word paraklēton, was typically used in a legal sense – a legal assistant, witness or advocate in court. Although Jesus is never explicitly given this title of paraklēton in John’s Gospel, it seems likely that the reference to “another” here implies that the Holy Spirit is going to take up the work of Jesus.
the Spirit of truth: See similar references in a title used here and in 15:26; 16:13. For John’s explicit and clear references to the Holy Spirit, see also on 1:32–33; 3:5–8; 4:23–24; 6:63; 7:37–39.
You know him: The suggestion here is that the disciples actually know Jesus and his work much better than they realize. The idea of knowing is not the rational idea – common to the modern western mind-set – of propositional or creedal knowing. Rudolph Schnackenburg warns us: “In the twentieth century ... consciousness of the presence of the ... Spirit has to a very great extent disappeared, even in the believing community. It is possible to say that the only person who will understand the words about the Spirit is the one who has already experienced the presence of the Spirit.’ (Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John, tr. by K. Smyth, C. Hastings and others, 3 vols. (Burns and Oates, 1968–82. Volume 3, 500-501.)
The young Canadian author, Tony McAleer, tells of a life journey from a nominally Catholic childhood through the violence of white supremacist ideologies in his early adult years. McAleer’s journey began to take a radically different direction when he fathered a child. Subsequently he engaged in therapy and eventually discovered what he calls, “radical compassion”: “Radical compassion .... takes us outside of our comfort zone: having compassion for people we don’t like, being willing to take a risk or experience some discomfort, or finally, wanting to go even further and engage in social change through our compassion, to change the environment that is the source of the suffering we witness in the world. Radical compassion starts with compassion for the self, which amplifies our capacity to serve others. To face our fears and our pain, to push through the discomfort of vulnerability, is one of the most radical acts we can undertake. ..... The journey inward to know ourselves is crucial to radical compassion, as it provides the necessary balance to truly effect change. .... Compassion within and compassion without—the two in balance—is a truly powerful combination, a place from which our fear and judgment can transform into understanding and healing. That which we don’t transform, we transmit” (Tony McAleer, The Cure for Hate, Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2019, 151-152).
It is a clear, practical statement of what we, in the best of our Catholic Tradition, hold dear. Yet, McAleer had to go outside the Catholic Tradition to find it. Why?
Today’s Gospel – John 14:15-21 – sheds some light on this. John’s writings are overwhelming a testament to the love of God. “God is love!” (1 John 4:8). “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). John makes it clear that all love comes from God: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us ....” (1 John 4:10). The Christian vision of the human person can be summed up: To be is to be the Presence of God who is Love.
As disciples of Jesus, it is our privilege and our responsibility to do all in our power to let God be God in us. “Because I live, you also will live. .... you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” This is the mystical heart of our faith and the very ground of our lives as disciples. Discipleship is a matter of accepting God’s love not earning it. The repeated failure over many generations to embrace and promote the embodiment of this profound and liberating truth has left a vacuum that has been filled with fear-filled moralism and a pre-occupation with law and doctrine. We can wonder whether people like Tony McAleer – and many others – were turned off by this desolate moralism. It simply does not address the deepest God-given needs and yearnings of the heart. What has been your experience? What are you doing about it?