Gospel for Feast of the Trinity (22 May 2016)
Gospel notes by Michael Whelan SM
“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. (John 16:12-15 – NRSV)
One scholar writes of this passage: “We are to understand that Jesus is the nodal point of revelation, God’s culminating self-disclosure, God’s final self-expression, God’s ‘Word’ (1:1, 14). All antecedent revelation has pointed toward him, and reaches its climax in him. That does not mean he himself provides all the details his followers will need; it does mean that ‘extra’ bits the Holy Spirit provides after he is sent by Christ Jesus, consequent upon Jesus’ death/exaltation, are nothing more than the filling out of the revelation nodally present in Jesus himself. The same thought is presented in different form in Hebrews 1:1–4: in times past God spoke through the prophets at many times and in various ways, ‘but in these days he has spoken to us by his Son’ (en huiō; the anarthrous construction focuses on the climactic quality of this revelation). When the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, the author certainly knew of the gift of the Spirit and of the writing of at least some of the New Testament books, but he sees such steps as no more than the unpacking of the Son-revelation. Similarly here: John 14:26 and 16:12–15 are mutually complementary. Because of this theme of the finality of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the church has always been rightly suspicious of claims of still further definitive revelation that is binding on the consciences of all Christians—whether in the claims, say, of Mormonism, or in the pretensions of the Rev. Moon—and rightly deems such stances as profoundly aberrant and cultic. cf. further on v. 15.” (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 539.)
This is not the only time in John’s Gospel we hear of the promise of the Holy Spirit – see also 14:17, 14:26, 15:26 and 20:22.
You cannot bear them now: “While the basic idea is that they cannot understand now, there is also a question of endurance because persecution by the world is involved.” (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (XIII-XXI): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29A), Yale University Press, 2008, 707.)
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth: This title – Spirit of truth – is also used in 14:17 and 15:26. We should also note that Jesus has identified himself with truth – see 14:6. The Spirit is one with Jesus who is one with the Father.
he will guide you into all the truth: The Greek verb hodēgein, “guide”, is related to the noun hodos, “way”. Again, Jesus has identified himself as “the way” – see 14:6. “The truth” and “the way” are “the life” and they are all one in Jesus. So this “guiding” is about much more than data or information or doctrine. The Spirit will enable the disciples to become one with Jesus. This becoming one with Jesus of course includes deepening knowledge and understanding of what God has done and continues to do in Jesus.
he will not speak on his own: This has also been said of Jesus – see 12:49 and 14:10.
he will speak whatever he hears: This little phrase presents us with a good example of why Scriptural fundamentalism is so wrong. Raymond Brown tells us about the available manuscripts: “Codices Vaticanus and Bezae (a strong combination) have the future tense of ‘hear’; Sinaiticus has the present; the Byzantine tradition, by way of grammatical improvement, reads the subjunctive with an (‘whatever he may hear’). The choice between the future and the present is a difficult one.” (Ibid.)
he will declare to you the things that are to come: “The statement that the Paraclete will declare to the disciples the things that are to come is perfectly consonant with the contention that the Paraclete is given or sent by the Father, for in so declaring the Paraclete is performing a function peculiar to God alone. (Raymond Brown, op cit, 708.)
“I still have many things to say to you ..... ” This statement applies in every age. God will never cease speaking to us. There is always more to reveal, more to reiterate, more to remember, more to savour.
In the Book of Exodus we have a seminal event: Moses encounters God on Horeb – see 3:1-15. There is a twofold revelation here. Firstly, God promises Moses, “I shall be with you”. Secondly, when Moses asks God’s name, God replies, “I am who I am”.
The name ‘revealed’ in Exodus 3:14 has the four Hebrew letters YHWH and is therefore often spoken of as the Tetragrammaton – literally ‘the four letters’. It is normally rendered in English as Yahweh. To this day scholars debate over both the precise etymological and theological meanings of the Tetragrammaton, though all seem to agree it has something to do with ‘being’. But the truth of that matter is that “God” is revealed as ultimately unnameable and unknowable. On June 29, 2008, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a directive that the use of the word ‘Yahweh’ in the Roman Catholic liturgy should be dropped in faithfulness to the Hebrew tradition and the practice of the early Church.
In effect, the twofold revelation is something like this: “I’ll be with you, as who I am shall I be with you”. And we might add: “Trust me!” God is revealed as mystery presence – often enough experienced by us as absence.
The revelation of God will always have this peculiar characteristic: The more you know the more you know you do not know and the more you want to know. St Thomas Aquinas reminds us: “It is impossible for any created intellect to comprehend God .... (even) by the revelation of grace we cannot know of God what he is, and thus are united to him as one unknown.” [Summa Theologica, I, q12, a7 & a13, ad 1]
As we encounter this mystery presence, we bring our words and images to bear to help point us in the right direction. So we say we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit – a triune God. We say God is a community.
But we do not simply make up these ways of thinking and speaking of God. The Christian community has listened to the Word through the ages, especially the Gospels. We continue to listen – with the ear of the heart, as St Benedict advises. We must never tire of listening. The words, images, names, concepts, indeed the events of our lives, point. They must not replace God. Jesus still has many things to say to us.