John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.John 14:8-17
The Gospel of the Lord
Welcome to Pentecost! This is an important day in the life of the Church: This is
the day of the Spirit. After seven weeks of the Easter season we finally come to
the great Feast of Pentecost and one more lectionary reading from the Fourth
Gospel. The tomb has been empty for a while now. The ripples of the
resurrection’s waters have smoothed out. There’s less startling news to tell, no
one running to see the grave cloths, no one walking away scratching his/her
head, no one sticking their fingers out, no one astonished, no one shuffling feet
beside a charcoal fire. Pretty soon, in fact, the church will settle in for a long
summer of ordinary time or Trinity season. But, not quite yet!
For Jewish folk, after the Exile, three festivals- Passover, Shavuot and Sukkoth –
were formed into pilgrimage feasts. The expectation for Jews, especially
Diaspora Jews, was a journey to Jerusalem. For Christians, Shavuot or Pentecost
is a festival carried over from Israel’s liturgical calendar. Since about the second
century C.E., Christians have celebrated Pentecost as the occasion of the
sending of the Spirit approximately fifty days after the death and resurrection of
Almost automatically Christians visualize Pentecost from Luke’s, quite literally
earth shaking, second volume account. Whatever happened on that Lukan Day,
we clearly think it was different from an average Tuesday morning or Friday
afternoon. But for this Sunday led by the lectionary sages, we’re going to look at “Pentecost” from the pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection perspective of the guest
room Passover meal. In John 14, Jesus speaks at length about the Spirit as
Teacher/Advocate/Counselor. The Spirit is the enrichment of the Father’s and the
Son’s presence. The Spirit is an everyday experience in the community. The
Spirit will stand beside them, to help them out, to do well by them, to live in their
Jesus says loving him, keeping his commandments will enable the Father and
the Spirit to come and live with the disciples in community (vs. 15-17). Now
here’s what I’m suggesting about Pentecost from John 14. A believing
community is not going to be merely condo housing for the Spirit. A believing
community will be caught up into the very life and love between the Father, the
Son and the Spirit. That’s the mystery Jesus’ pending departure and the Spirit’s
pending arrival will bring about. That’s the mystery the disciples didn’t understand
Jesus says simply: the Spirit will reside in the community. We’ll be asking
ourselves what the sending of the Spirit might have meant to the disciples and, of
course, by extension, to our community.
Keep in mind in ch. 14, Jesus’ announcement about the Father’s and the Spirit’s
presence in a community, his exhortations about love and obedience and his
promises of peace were all spoken on the night he was betrayed and arrested.
Let’s just state the merely obvious here. In the next 48-72 or so hours the
remaining Eleven disciples would have plenty of occasions to be very, very
afraid, frightened, disoriented. Feeling “peace” about anything would shortly
become the remotest of any/all possibilities. Over the years I have come to
imagine Jesus’ voice choked with emotion, maybe even something a little
desperate comes through as he urges the remaining Eleven to be calm. It’s
probably the tone of voice you’d hear right after the bus slid off a snowy highway,
landing on its side in a ditch. And someone stands up, with real fear and
trembling in their voice, with eyes widened in fright saying to everyone, “OK,
everybody, now DON’T PANIC!!!!” The truth is in my life—and maybe in your
life—every time someone has told me not to be afraid or not to panic it was
because all things being equal, fear and panic were the best option at that very
moment. But seriously, in this Gospel, the disciples’ deer-in-the-headlights stares
are gathered into Philip’s outburst: “Just show us the Father, already, Master,
and it’ll be good enough for us!” Philip has two speaking parts in the Fourth
Gospel. In both he is portrayed as a “half-empty glass kind of guy” fussing about
what they don’t have. Remember previously, Philip fretted there wouldn’t be
“enough” food to feed a large crowd (6:7).
So it’s not likely Philip or the others grasped Jesus’ response. “Have I been with
you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? (vs. 9). It’s not the length
of chronological time, so to speak, leading to “knowing”, but rather grasping who Jesus is. “The one who has seen me has seen the Father,” he says. “Seeing”
is one of the Fourth Gospel’s ways of saying someone “gets it.”
In this Passover table talk, the festival’s child-like FAQs take a different shape.
The disciples ask: Will you show us the Father? Where are you going? Why do
you have to go? Can’t we go with you? Who’ll stay with us when you’re gone?
Answering their childlike inquiries, Jesus promises another, a
Teacher/Advocate/Counselor, the Spirit of Truth who will teach them and will stay
with them as they carry on his ministry. When life gets tough, when the bottom
falls out, the Father via the Spirit will quite surely be there.
Jesus’ words assure the disciples when he is gone from them, they won’t need to
reevaluate their loyalties. He will still be with them. They will still know they are
serving the Father by doing the same works he did while he was among them.
And Jesus offers them his abiding presence through the Spirit. One of the roles
of the Spirit, then, is continuing education. But the Spirit is not merely a substitute
teacher. The teaching role of the Spirit includes Jesus’ previous words. But it also
encompasses new lessons because learning is an ongoing process between
teacher and student. And this is where we come in. The Spirit is in our
community to orient us to the ways of Jesus and the Father. This means each of
us, united in a community, need to be attentive to what the Spirit is teaching us
today for the benefit of the community.
One of the outcomes of Pentecost is: the spirit-driven community is empowered
to do Jesus’ works. It is the Advocate/Counselor who turns us, not simply into
servants or even merely partners but actually, icons, that is, image bearers, if you
will–portals through whom Jesus’ presence, power and work are visible in this
world. We “act” because Jesus and the Father are present with us by the Spirit.
The focus, however, isn’t on our action so much as our willingness to let the
Spirit be free to work through us in the world. And the promise embedded in the
table talk is the community indwelt by the Spirit will do greater works than those
done by Jesus. What these are and how they should be experienced isn’t
revealed. It’s just a promise from the One who sends the Advocate/Counselor,
who lives among us in community. Pentecost from the perspective of the Fourth
Gospel, then, is essentially experiencing a breakthrough in our experience of
Jesus-led activity. From this Gospel’s “Pentecost”, we are to begin to learn from
the Spirit because the Spirit can be seen and found most readily in the
community. Now there is much work to be done in the world. And the Spirit is
ready to guide/teach us. For example, Jesus reminds us the power of the Spirit
comes to us through the ministry of intercession: “When you ask me for anything
in my name, I will do it” (vs. 14). The Fourth Gospel points us as a community to
reckon ‘greater works’ begin in intercession – in becoming a community of
people who position themselves in the world through prayer. “We are an
intercessory people – a community of go-betweens, fellow-advocates with the
Spirit, bringing Truth to the world, bringing the suffering of the world to the
Father, and bringing the Father’s peace to the world. This invitation to prayer is primarily communal. These words are Jesus’ last words to the remaining
disciples. It’s simply not possible to follow Jesus on our own; we need one
another — ALL of us.
Pentecost, then, is a time to remember the Father and Jesus are present through
the advocacy of the Spirit in an everyday way. For when we encounter nothing
less than the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, we come to know we cannot
limit who the divine person is, much less how the divine person acts. That’s why
our worship, for example, can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a
sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine,
any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting.
We are to, in the words of the dismissal, “Go in peace to love and serve the
Lord”. We are empowered to do this by the presence of the Spirit we experience
in our community worship. We who follow Jesus now are called to act on and
share the servant love Jesus brings into the world. We are to share servant love
freely, without limitations. We are to take this Good News and share it by our acts
as well as our words with everyone we meet.
“Wanted: Growing organization looking for workers. Great rewards for great
results. Successful applicants are expected not only to meet but to exceed the
high standards set by the company’s founder.” Sound like a difficult job? It’s the
job description of an ordinary, everyday disciple in community according to
today’s “Pentecost” reading. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will
also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these” (vs. 12).
Greater works than Jesus? How is that possible? In part, it’s possible because of
the Spirit’s working in the lives of different people in a believing community.
Whereas there was only one Jesus, there are many in a community. All together
are capable of drawing on the resources of the Spirit to accomplish great things.
Jesus went about teaching, healing, and telling others “Good News”. As his
disciples, we are called to carry forward his ministries. Which might mean at
times, laying our hands on people, praying for them to be healed. And at other
times, it might mean visiting and encouraging others during their illness.
Sometimes we may be giving time and money to an organization working to find
a cure for our society’s ills. But in all things and all ways we are to be passing on
to others our understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Maybe we don’t fancy ourselves
something like an evangelist, but by our Spirit-empowered “greater works” we
can lead others to glorify Jesus and the Father. Today’s “Pentecost” reading from
John presents a challenging job description. Would you like an application to fill
out? You can pick up one here at the eucharist table. And there is a cover letter
you should carefully read – the prayer of humble access. Amen.