John Michael Gutiérrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John
(Jesus said to his disciples) 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.John 16:5-15
The Gospel of the Lord
This is Trinity Sunday. The lectionary sages would have us deal with realities much deeper than the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana trench. Trinitarian theology involves issues around the closeness/separation of the interrelationship between Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit. The evidence for the issues is observable in the New Testament writings and especially evident in the Fourth Gospel’s Passover setting, chs. 13-17. At its simplest, the three are all linked together like one of those Celtic knot thingies. You can’t split one off without getting an unbalanced image.
In the Fourth Gospel the theological theme is: the Spirit will continue to declare what the Father is like, just as Jesus himself came to do (cf. 1:18). So in revealing Jesus to the disciples, the Spirit will also be revealing the Father, just as Jesus did. Now this is also the ninth and final time in Year C the lectionary sages have us reading from the Fourth Gospel. And this is the third time they send us back to Jesus’ concluding Passover communication with his disciples.
So remember at the Passover meal, Jesus had washed their feet, dispatched Judas, emphasized the World’s gathering hatred for the disciples standing in stark contrast to his abiding love for them. In chapter 14 he has sketched the multi-faceted activity of the soon-to-be-present Spirit. Certainly for the disciples this Passover festival was full of puzzling thoughts, agonized affections, perplexing questions, parting words and longing glances. Abruptly Jesus says “Get up, let us go from here” (14.31b). Having left the Passover table, Jesus and the Eleven begin a fate-filled trek. In chapters 15-17, they will wander the stone streets of Jerusalem before crossing through the Kidron ravine, making their way toward Gethsemanie’s orchard. The narrator alerts us Jesus is well aware of their uncertainty and the anxiety gnawing at them as they walk. So He opens this walking conversation with a soft start up. “But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” However, remember both Peter (13.6) and Thomas (14.5) had asked him this very question. Yet Jesus knows it’s possible to see his lips moving but not hear what he’s saying. The point is they were and are overwhelmed, distracted with their own thoughts. Nevertheless, Jesus is firmly committed to preparing them for what is about to happen. So in this 3 chapter city walk about, he circles back to his Passover table talk: opposition they will experience, necessity of obedience to his instruction, selfless commitments to one another and today’s appointed lectionary reading – the role the soon-to-be-present Spirit will play in supporting them against cultural/social/political pressures.
Jesus asserts he is now going “to the one who sent me.” But he qualifies his leaving “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (vs. 7). Jesus has to go in order for the Spirit to come. But the soon-to-arrive-Spirit is not Plan B.
In this post-Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension lectionary reading, we know the narrative has the suffering and crucifixion in the foreground “When Judas Iscariot was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him” (13.31). And we as readers also know the Gospel attaches complex associations to the crucifixion. In Jesus, Israel and the World were presented with a renewed understanding of God. God loved the world. So he gave his very own Son, an image bearer, as an ambassador to bring a renewed relationship and way of living (1.14; 3.16). But the bottom fell out. He was handed over and crucified. And we don’t really know “how” what happened next – happened. We call it Resurrection. The resurrection and then the seating of Jesus beside the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7. Jn. 19.) play a central role indicating the faithfulness of Jesus in fulfilling the Father’s will. A series of events, then, the crucifixion, resurrection, ascension– fill out his “going away” and “glorification”. In chapters 13-17, the Spirit is the gift of Jesus’ resurrection/ascension. There is a buildup of ideas around the Spirit – the Prosecutor/Advocate/Teacher proceeding from the Father and the Son. In the main the Spirit is the One who comes to prove popular assessment of Jesus is mistaken.
Jesus lays out three topics for the Spirit’s multidimensional assessment – sin, righteousness and judgment. Now in some American religious circles laying aside sin, holiness and judgment “love is love” has become a popular sound bite. But in this Gospel, the Spirit as prosecutor has verdicts: 1. concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 2. concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer and 3. concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (vs. 8-11).
In Johannine theology, “world” refers to spiritual principalities and powers as well as human rulers, whose religious/cultural systems govern, organize and dominate societies. The ideology and “principled posturing” of the rulers of this world has been critiqued by the Spirit and found wanting. No doubt, the World’s established orthodoxies are attractive, offering stability through economic, political, religious, military and social programs. Of these, the Spirit is a relentless critic. The World does not understand its own ideological situation. The world’s pragmatism is slippery. It takes the Spirit as prosecutor to argue truth, justice, integrity and faithfulness. These values are compromised and twisted out of shape by the World’s unremitting propaganda of individualistic, self-determined moral relativism. The truth is truth is the Spirit’s gift to this wayward world. Spirit driven truth unmasks evil in human hearts. Only the Spirit understands how the inner workings of the human heart function. Only the Spirit as prosecutor can give a vulnerable human heart, defenses against the dark arts of the World’s evil. In this Gospel, “love is love” is God’s unconditional, transforming love. A supernatural love driven by the Spirit as a Prosecutor standing before believing communities teaching them/us to resist cultural subversions and as the Ep. of Jude writes reach out to “be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (vs. 22-23). A most serious summation, indeed!
From the role of the Spirit as prosecutor, Jesus now turns to the Spirit’s role as Advocate/Teacher to the disciples (vs. 12-15). The Spirit will be prodding them toward the truth; toward a faith, without the presence of Jesus, a faith trusting the Father is with them.
Now the transition from being a band of Jesus’ followers to being disciples, to being a community with its responsibilities, to witnessing about who Jesus is, will not/was not/has not been easy. So the Spirit steps in as Advocate/Teacher enabling the disciples to become a community, to understand and speak to the truth about Jesus and the Father. The Spirit is the assurance they will not face the future alone. The Spirit will make the teachings of Jesus relevant to them in the times when they are least able to trust, understand, or persevere in new and changing circumstances. The Spirit will help them interpret what they hear/experience in the new circumstances.
Jesus did not promise the Spirit for First or even Second Century Christians only.
The world keeps on turning. Believing communities through the centuries always find themselves trying to understand and live out faith in the midst of changing social, cultural, and moral circumstances. As heirs of Pentecost our Jesus believing community has received the promised Spirit. In other words, the Spirit makes it possible to understand what Jesus means for “our” time. The challenge to us, then, is where and how do we see Jesus’ teaching played out in our World, in our community?
It seems to me the future is as open for us as it was for the early church. Our future requires our discernment, our listening, our watching for, and our trusting Jesus will continue to reveal the Father through the Spirit. Jesus’s sending of the Spirit is not dependent on our complete understanding. So can we, like the Eleven, learn to trust the Father Jesus has shown us. Can we dare to acknowledge humbly there are still many truths we are not able to grasp? Can we dare to acknowledge humbly the Spirit still urges us along the path toward truth? Why these questions? Well, to highlight there is no shortcut to long and deep christian character transformation partnered with the Spirit.
Just like us, the early communities, living in a hostile World, needed to put words to what Jesus taught. Like them, we can learn the Advocate/Teacher Spirit, contemplating human behavior, is not a spirit of “whatever”. Instead, it is time Jesus faith communities stop trying to reconcile the narrative of biblical beliefs with those of a hostile World. We must understand one thing clearly through this lectionary lesson. We have Jesus’s teaching. His disciples were urged not to accommodate themselves to their age. Instead they were, and we are, to learn the message from the Father taught by the Spirit about life through the Son for all those who would believe. This is the point in the final statement: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you” (vs. 15).
To this end, then, a faith community, our faith community need not be hesitant in practicing its faith in a hostile world. The point I am trying to make is this: the mission of disciples, then and now, is to help in the healing and reconciliation of a broken, hostile World. It is a weighty and humbling responsibility. And since this is a Sunday morning, one way, we, as a liturgical community, do this, sometimes unaware, is through Eucharistic liturgy.
The Eucharistic Liturgy is a public work by our faith community on behalf of the whole world. In the liturgy we have a blueprint, a design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. Eucharistic worship involves our self-offering in prayer and worship to the Trinity on behalf of the World so that all may come to know, love, and serve them fully. In and through the liturgy, our community shows the World, it might be transformed to what it was always intended to be through Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and the placing of the Spirit among us.
Although, much traveled “spiritually ”, Annie Dillard has described, insightfully and humorously, the impact Spirit infused liturgy could/should have on us and on into the world:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), “Living like Weasels”, pp. 40-41).
As these last words from Annie Dillard fade out, let us return to a renewed hearing of Jesus’ words, for why, then, are we so surprised when the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son makes his presence known to us? Amen.