Gospel for Pentecost Sunday (23 May 2021)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Lightstock / Rob Birkbeck
“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!
The Gospel of John is built around several major interdependent themes. Let us briefly consider just three of those themes. A seminal theme is expressed through the Greek verb menō, variously translated by the English words “abide”, “stay”, “remain”, “make your home” etc. See for example the parable of the vine in John 15:1-10. Secondly, “light” (phōs) is a major theme. It is generally contrasted with “darkness” (skotos). See for example 3:19-21 and recall that dramatic moment when Judas, at the Last Supper, “after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (13:30). Thirdly, “believe” (pisteuō) is a major theme, used more than one hundred times. John always uses it as a verb. See for example the Prologue, 1:7 & 12.
Today’s Gospel – John 15:26-27 & 12-15 – reminds us of another Johannine theme: “Truth” – “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”. “Truth”, as used by John, can only be understood in the context of the other themes, especially, menō.
In John’s Gospel, there are at least 26 references to “truth” (alētheia) and at least 19 references to “true” (alēthēs). These references are complex. This is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in Jesus’ encounter with Pilate: “‘My kingdom is not from here’. Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice’. Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’” (18:37-38).
The first few times John makes reference to “truth”, he couples it with another theme – “grace and truth” (1:14 & 17) and “spirit and truth” (4:23 & 24). Today’s Gospel refers to “the Spirit of truth”. This is a personalization of “truth”, taking us to the heart of John’s understanding of “truth”. Recall Jesus’ response to Thomas’ question about how to get to where Jesus says he is going: “‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’” (14:6). Jesus’ declaration “to the Jews who had believed in him” must be interpreted in the light of that response to Thomas: “‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’” (8:31-32). This is brought into direct contrast with another declaration by Jesus in the same discourse, although it seems to be directed at Jews who did not believe in him: “‘You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies’” (8:44).
This meditation on “truth” offered in today’s Gospel is particularly pertinent in “the ag of post-truth”. Quite apart from Jesus’ teaching, an individual or group that has lost respect for truth will eventually disintegrate, probably wreaking havoc in the process. The “truth”, John reminds us, is a person. Knowing the truth, John also reminds us, is “abiding” in that person. Practically speaking, the development of an “abiding relationship” with him who is “the Way, the Truth, the Life”, emerges in constant listening for, facing and surrendering to the truth of our daily experience. Be persistent!