This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 15, 2016.
Our text falls near the beginning of the so-called Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (chapters 14-17). Just before this, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples, announced his coming betrayal, eaten the Last Supper with them, given them the “new” commandment that they love one another as he has loved them, and predicted Peter’s coming denial. At the start of the Farewell Discourse, Jesus has promised to prepare a place for them, to come again and take them to himself and to a place where he is going. He has answered Thomas’s question about the way to where he is going by pointing to himself and saying that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” That is, Jesus is the true way of life that leads to the Father.
The first part of what follows in verses 8-14 takes us deep into the identification of Jesus with the Father. This passage lays the groundwork for a more developed doctrine of the Trinity that would take nearly three hundred years to work out. What John repeatedly wants us to see is the oneness of Jesus with the Father. This oneness is a unity of persons, not a singularity. Think of it this way: When we are talking about God being one—and this is a common conversation among the three great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam—we mean there are no other gods but God. There is one and only one God. That singularity, however, is not the issue of our text. Jesus uses the intimate language of Father to talk about what we would come to understand as the interpersonal inner character of the one Triune God.
This whole passage draws the band of disciples—who represent the church, even today—into the very life of God. In the mystery of the triune life, the unity of love and purpose among the persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit is complete. Jesus is therefore able to say that if you know him, you have known the Father also. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father also. If you say, therefore, that you believe in God, you should also believe in Jesus, since these are not two different things as Jesus and the Father mutually indwell (“I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”).
The effect of Jesus’ words at this time are to assure the disciples that when he is gone from them, they won’t need to reevaluate their loyalties. He will still be with them, and they will still know that they are serving God the Father by doing the same works he did while he was among them in the flesh.
But to reinforce this all the more, Jesus promises to send them “another” advocate—the Holy Spirit. He himself was their advocate while he was with them in the flesh. As the advocate (“Paraclete,” one called alongside of another as the helper, comforter, counselor or companion), he was always there with them and for them. By sending the Holy Spirit, he still would be with them and for them, albeit now in a different mode of spiritual presence.
Jesus’ farewell discourse is stylized after the farewell discourse of Moses. The intent is to give instructions for how the people should live after the leader has departed. Moses’ chief theme was fidelity to the commandments he had given them. By keeping the commandments, they would be showing their loyalty to him and to God. God had given them the Ten Commandments; Moses had only delivered them. He was the go-between, the intercessor, the advocate. So to be faithful to his legacy when he was gone, Israel needed to be faithful to the commandments he left them.
Likewise, Jesus tells his disciples that if they love him, they should keep his commandments. But Jesus offers them something Moses could not: his abiding presence through the Holy Spirit. The story of Israel was one act of forgetfulness after another. The plea of the prophets to remember appears over and over. Jesus knows this history and the consequences that come from that forgetfulness. So he promises the Spirit of truth who will remind them of all he had taught them. In fact, the act of John’s writing this Gospel nearly a generation after Jesus’ death is tribute to the Spirit’s effective work of reminding the church of Jesus’ teaching.
One other gift of the Spirit Jesus promises to leave with them is peace. This is his peace, not the kind of peace the world knows. Worldly peace was epitomized by the empire’s commitment to Pax Romana. The peace of Rome was a political and military enforcement of civil compliance to the emperor and to all those who acted in his name. Fear of reprisal undergirded the peace of the world. Peace that reigns without fear is the peace Jesus gives.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The presence of the living Christ among us may well be tested by the church’s capacity to live in peace amid a world of violence and fear. This inner confidence and mutual love in the church is the antidote to a world that runs on worry and fear. When the one who conquered death lives within and among us, what is there to fear? By contrast, when worry and fear lead the church to turn inward, to turn on one another within the fellowship, or to treat the world as an enemy to be feared or defeated, we betray the victory of Christ over the world and the power of the Spirit among us.
Dr. George Mason
Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas
Tags: Holy Spirit, presence of Christ, commandments, love, fear