Today’s lesson is part of Jesus’ Farewell discourse, preparing his disciples for his departure and for their reception of the Holy Spirit. These sorts of formal farewell speeches seemed to be traditional in Bible times (in and out of the Bible), offering flowery rhetoric and words of comfort and instructions to survivors of a departing leader or teacher. It’s still a rather long goodbye, filling five chapters of John, but not as long Moses ́ good-bye to the Hebrews, that took the whole book of Deuteronomy.
In his farewell, Jesus both reassures and directs his disciples about how to carry on after his death, not that talk of his departure is anything they want to hear. He also promises the Holy Spirit, and he emphasizes the intimate unity of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and the Believer. basically throwing in another layer to the Trinity.
It’s interesting that the longer he talks, the more confused and anxious his friends seem to be. But then when were the disciples ever portrayed otherwise? But maybe in this case, why not?
They’d left their old lives behind to follow Jesus, and now he was going to leave them? They’d taken all kinds of risks, breaking Jewish law and offending religious officials. He had taught them, walked with them, blessed and broken bread with them, and they’d come to rely pretty heavily upon him. They’d even recognized him as the Messiah ... And now he was going away, and they weren’t invited, and he was leaving them in charge. What sense would any of this made to them?
Talk about separation anxiety! But it turns out that they were not being left alone to fend for themselves exactly, and, John suggests, nor are we! No, part of the good news of Jesus’ departure was that it would make way for the arrival of another advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would be with them always, not only when Jesus was physically present ... which means that even for us, who were born far too late to encounter the earthly historical Jesus, this Holy Spirit was and is present, active, and available, even to us now.
I think for most of us, the Spirit is the hardest part of the Trinity. I remember growing up with images of Jesus hanging on the Sunday School walls (even if he was rather blond-haired and blue-eyed for a middle-easterner). And the image of God wasn’t too hard – we saw images of him from up there on the Sistene Chapel ceiling with Adam. But the Holy Spirit is tougher, less tangible. Some people equate the Holy Spirit with a particular kind of experience, like talking in tongues or something. But most of us are probably content with a sense of something “out there” that we cannot name.
In our Gospel today, Jesus declares that if his disciples love him, they will keep his commandments. “What commandments?" they might ask. Because unlike, say, Matthew, nowhere in John does Jesus command us to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Famously, John’s Jesus gives only a single commandment and it occurs in the chapter just before ours:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
From our Gospel writer John, at the end of each day, and during each moment of each day, there's only one question to ask yourself: “In what ways did I or did I not love today?”
This idea reminds me of an aspect of Benjamin Franklin (one of our nation’s founders and self-proclaimed sage). Franklin famously kept a journal on a form that he had printed. (Perhaps you’ve used something similar from the Franklin Planner company or an equivalent.) At the top of every page of Franklin’s original was the question, “What good shall I do today?” (sort of like “In what way can I love someone today?” At the bottom of page was a final check-in question for end of the day that said, “What good have I done today?”
Remember according to John, Jesus’ one commandment is to love. So we could ask, “In what ways should I – or did I or did I not love today?”
Jesus constantly asks the Bible characters questions that help them understand their own lives and motives more clearly. He asks questions not because he doesn't know the answers, of course (and John assures us that Jesus already knew everything); rather, he asks so that we might know, and therefore move forward with clear vision into the truth, and light, and glory, and love, – all abundant for which God has created us. It's all of a piece.
John’s Gospel is different from the other three in so many ways, of course. In Luke, for example, the Holy Spirit is heavily active in the lives of the characters from the beginning of his Gospel through the end of Acts. But John insists that the Holy Spirit will come only after Jesus departs.
I’ve kind of wrestled with why this is? I think a clue lies in John’s Jesus referring to the Holy Spirit as Another Advocate. Not as The Advocate but as Another Advocate. Which can only imply then that Jesus himself was the first Advocate.
Advocate is the word used in this translation. The original Greek is “Paraclete,” ( perə - klēt ) which is a combination of “beside” and “to call.” The word Paraclete has a range of meanings in Greek that includes Comforter, Advocate, Counselor, Helper, and more. The word occurs only five times in the Bible, four in John 14-16 and once in 1 John.
So, Jesus was the first Paraclete; For the Spirit to be active among them while Jesus was there (like the Luke version) would have seemed sort of redundant since they each serve the same kind of revelatory function. What appeared to be bad news to the disciples in one sense – that is, Jesus' departure from them – turned out to be the best of news in another sense.
While Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was limited to one locale and one person, himself. But on his departure, his disciples are given the Spirit and moved from the status of apprentices to full, mature revealers of God's love. And this happens not just to the first disciples, but to all those who would come later, those who never saw the
The evangelist insists that present believers are at no disadvantage in comparison to the first believers. John suggests that everything they were taught and everything they experienced is available to the same degree and with equally rich texture, even to us.
We Christians are reminded at least every Sunday in our worship about the Trinity, so I think maybe the most stunning or surprising feature about this Gospel is the concept of the Quattrinity according to a professor at Southern Methodist University, or, probably more properly, from my hierarchical dictionary, a Quaternity.
In John’s particular version of the Good News, Jesus insists that the intimate relationship that exists between him, and God, and the Spirit also includes believers. The believer does not stand there just admiring the the majestry of the Trinity; rather, the believer is an equal part of it. I think I like that. Maybe one of the most intriging parts of John’s Gospel
John’s believers don't “imitate” Jesus; they participate in him wholly. If we read the next couple of verses, Jesus was asked, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” And Jesus answers, “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.”
The word “home” is used only one other time in John, in verse 2, “In my Father’s house are many rooms [which is the same word as “home” in verse 23]. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Which means: If you love me and keep my word, my Father and I will come to you and – in all your suffering and trials – give you heaven on earth.
So if God and Christ have made their home with us, how can we imagine there to be any distance between us and God? It seems that John is saying that ultimate intimacy with God and Christ and with the Holy Spirit, is available now. What might one hope for beyond that? God is not currently holding out on us in any way – Love God and Jesus, and life, abundant life, is available for living – Now and to eternity.
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