Gospel for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 25 2014)
“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)
1. The opening phrase – If you love me – “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.)
a. The “if” does not imply either that the disciples do or do not love him; nor does it imply promise or threat; (see D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, 1991, Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 498.) Rather, this is more by way of matter of fact. Jesus is stating that love and obedience go together – wherever there is love there will be obedience and vice versa. This connection between love and obedience is repeated in the final verse (v 21) of this text. See also v 23 and 15:14.
b. A reward/punishment mentality seems to be deeply ingrained in human beings. Is this is a question of nature or nurture? The Bible certainly has plenty examples of this mentality – and I believe it is a major obstacle to us recognizing the unconditional love of God. A reward/punishment mentality inevitably puts God in the role of rewarder and punisher and invariably this seems to make people frightened of God. (See Michael Whelan, “Beyond Reward and Punishment: Living Without ‘Why?’”, Aquinas Academy Monographs #016, 2010.)
2. “Commandments” (alternatively, “commands”): “The parallels that tie together ‘what I command’ (v. 15, lit. ‘my commands’), ‘commands’ (v. 21), and ‘my teaching’ (lit. ‘my word’ in v. 23, and ‘my words’ in v. 24) suggest to some that more is at stake than Jesus’ ethical commands. What the one who loves Jesus will observe 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). Nevertheless the plural forms (‘commands’, entolai) likely focus on the individual components of Jesus’ requirements, while the singular ‘teaching’ (logos) focuses on the Christ-revelation as a comprehensive whole. Of course, one of the principal ingredients of this revelation is the obligation Jesus’ followers have under the new covenant to love one another (13:34–35). John sees this as so integrally tied to holistic devotion to God that he can elsewhere say, ‘This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands’ (1 Jn. 5:2). (See Carson, op cit, 498-499.)
a. John’s understanding of belief is obviously relevant here. And we get some insight into that understanding when we see that the verb, “to believe”, is used more than fifty times in John’s Gospel and it is always the verb (pisteuo (πιστεύω)), never the noun, “belief” (pistis (πίστις)). For John, faith is a dynamic reality, a living relationship with Jesus Christ and all that he represents.
3. “Advocate” – sometimes rendered “Comforter” (KJV) or Counsellor” (NIV) – is used in the NRSV to translate the Greek Παράκλητος. One dictionary describes the word as follows: “(a title for the Holy Spirit) one who helps, by consoling, encouraging, or mediating on behalf of – ‘Helper, Encourager, Mediator.’…. The principal difficulty encountered in rendering παράκλητος is the fact that this term covers potentially such a wide area of meaning. The traditional rendering of ‘Comforter’ is especially misleading because it suggests only one very limited aspect of what the Holy Spirit does. A term such as ‘Helper’ is highly generic and can be particularly useful in some languages. In certain instances, for example, the concept of ‘Helper’ is expressed idiomatically, for example, ‘the one who mothers us’ or, as in one language in Central Africa, ‘the one who falls down beside us,’ that is to say, an individual who upon finding a person collapsed along the road, kneels down beside the victim, cares for his needs, and carries him to safety. A rendering based upon the concept of legal advocate seems in most instances to be too restrictive. Furthermore, there may be quite unsatisfactory connotations associated with any word which suggests a lawyer …. ” (J P Louw & E A Nida, Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains, United Bible Societies, 1996.) Carson offers an interesting note on the use of the word “Comforter” to translate Παράκλητος: “‘Comforter’ was not bad in Elizabethan English, when the verb ‘to comfort’ meant ‘to strengthen, give succour to, to encourage, to aid’ (from Latin confortare, ‘to strengthen’). In today’s ears, ‘Comforter’ sounds either like a quilt or like a do-gooder at a wake, and for most speakers of English should be abandoned.” (p.499)
a. The Advocate is given freely to all those who love and obey him – again referring back to the effect of If you love me;
b. We would do well to read this text on love and obedience and the Advocate in the light of John’s First Letter, especially the 4th chapter where he says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us ….” (1 John 4:7-10.)
4. “Another Advocate”: What can John mean by speaking of “another Advocate”? Is there more than one? Perhaps the “other” – the Advocate already with the disciples – is Jesus himself: “The one whom Jesus will ask the Father to send is called ‘another Paraclete’ (allon paraklēton). Although it is just possible to understand this expression to mean ‘another one, i.e. a Paraclete’, the arguments in favour of ‘another Paraclete’ are decisive (cf. Franck, p. 38). Some argue that allon here means ‘another Paraclete of the same type’, but John’s use of this term forbids us to rest so much weight on it (cf. Additional Note on 5:31–32). Nevertheless ‘another Paraclete’ in the context of Jesus’ departure implies that the disciples already have one, the one who is departing. Although Jesus is never in the Fourth Gospel explicitly referred to as a paraklētos, the title is applied to him in 1 John 2:1 (NIV ‘one who speaks … in our defence’). That means that Jesus’ present advocacy is discharged in the courts of heaven; John 14 implies that during his ministry his role as Paraclete, strengthening and helping his disciples, was discharged on earth. ‘Another Paraclete’ is given to perform this latter task.” (See Carson, op cit, 499-500.) Another commentator writes: “Jesus will ask the Father to gift that situation of love and faithfulness with “another Paraclete” …. To be with them forever. Jesus’ hearing the prayers of the disciples and doing for them whatever they ask (vv. 13-14) indicate that he performs the role of Paraclete (cf 1 John 2:1), but there will be “another Paraclete”. For all the similarities that might exist between the roles of Jesus the Paraclete (vv. 13-14) and the “other Paraclete” (v. 16), the latter does not become flesh (114) and will not be lifted up in death to reveal God in a consummate act of love for his disciples (cf 12:32-33; 13:1). The “other Paraclete” will remain with the disciples forever (v. 16c: eis ton aiōna).” (Francis J Moloney, The Gospel of John, Liturgical Press, 1998, 401.)
5. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you”: “Jesus’ physical departure will not be the end of his revealing presence. This theme dominates vv. 18-21. The departure ends all physical “sight” of Jesus’ revelation of truth to the world. As Jesus warned “the Jews”: “The light is with you for a little while …. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you” (12:35). That “little while” (14:19a) is now coming to an end for the world that has rejected jesus, as Jesus will definitively depart, but the disciples, the ones who believe in him, love him, and keep his commandments (cf vv. 1, 11, 12, 15), are promised the sight of the departed Jesus and a life that will flow from the fact that he lives beyond the departure of his physical experience of death.(v. 19b). Jesus will die and depart but the Paraclete is a gift that follows this event (7:39; 14:16). Although Jesus is going away (v. 18a) he is coming to his disciples (v. 18b) and they will see him (v. 19b). The death and departure of Jesus will lead to his life with the Father (v. 19c), and life for the disciples (v. 19c). Because he still lives, a consequence of his departure from the world is his lifegiving presence to the disciples (v. 19b). The departure of Jesus and the gift of another Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, call for a disctinction between Jesus and the Spirit-Paraclete, but what the Spirit does for the disciples is the prolongation and perfection of what Jesus does for them. None of this is possible without Jesus’ return to the Father to live so that the disciples may also live.” (Francis J Moloney, op cit, 402-403.)
Everything John writes is governed by the fact that Jesus Christ has radically altered the whole of existence to make of it a movement into ultimate communion. This is already implicit in the great promise: “I will be with you!” – see Exodus 3:12. It is also implicit in his earlier statement: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (10:10).Given the story of creation in the first chapters of Genesis, this movement into a life of full communion in God is actually a recovery and an enhancement in Christ of our human identity, for we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Even at a natural human level, we can at times experience a sense of communion, a hint of what might be – holding an infant, a special moment with someone we love, an act of compassion, looking out to sea, walking through the bush, and so on. These are what T S Eliot might call “hints and suggestions” – see “Dry Salvages”.
All of John’s key words tell us that this communion comes to its fullest expression in the community that is God – words like believe, love, see, abide, obey:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. ….. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. …. you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
To think of life as a movement towards communion, gives a very particular definition and understanding to what it means to be alive, to live a truly human life now – to be is to be one with all in the One, at least in a beginning sort of way.
To think this way is thoroughly counter-cultural – the centre of gravity has shifted from ego to God, from the individualism of individuals with individuals, to the community of unique individuals united in Christ. It sets a radical moral vision – reconciliation becomes the central task, love the defining disposition. The authentic individual emerges in and through relationship, discovering – all the time discovering – that his or her true identity is a being with. And it is all God’s work. And it takes great effort on our part to allow God to be God.
Michael Whelan SM
“And now I give you an example from the Fathers. Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw the outline of a circle. The centre point is the same distance from any point on the circumference. Now concentrate your minds on what is to be said! Let us suppose that this circle is the world and that God himself is the centre; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the centre are the lives of people. To the degree that the saints enter into the things of the spirit, they desire to come near to God; and in proportion to their progress in the things of the spirit, they do in fact come close to God and their neighbour. The closer they are to God the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God. Now consider in the same context the question of separation; for when they stand away from God and turn to external things, it is clear that the more they recede and become distant from God, the more they become distant from one another. See! This is the very nature of love. The more we are turned away from and do not love God, the greater the distance that separates us from our neighbour. If we were to love God more, we should be closer to God, and through love of him we should be more united in love to our neighbour; and the more we are united to our neighbour the more we are united to God. May God make us worthy to listen to what is fitting for us and do it. For in the measure that we pay attention and take care to carry out what we hear, God will always enlighten us and make us understand his will.” (Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings, translated by Eric P Wheeler, Cistercian Publications, 1977, 138-139. Little is known of Dorotheos of Gaza. He was probably born about 506 in Antioch, seems to have had a reasonable education, became a monk and renowned spiritual guide.)