This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 22, 2016.
In the final section of his Farewell Discourse to the disciples, Jesus focuses further on the role of the Holy Spirit (literally, the Paraclete). Most of what is said in this section repeats themes that have already appeared: the gift of the Spirit to the disciples (church), the Spirit’s relation to Jesus, the Spirit being the continuing presence of Jesus, the Spirit of truth reminding the disciples of all Jesus had taught. Now we hear these themes again, but with nuances that take us deeper into their meaning.
What might Jesus mean by the phrase “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”? We understand that Jesus can’t teach them everything he would like because his own time in the flesh is limited, but this saying puts the emphasis on the condition of learning that disciples are yet unprepared for. To bear means to carry, as in a load or weight. Metaphorically, it is tied to suffering. The disciples were not in a position to understand what Jesus might say to them about some things, since they had not yet experienced the suffering that would be coming for them. Suffering is a teacher. It opens one up to learning that could not be gained without it. The disciples still harbored hopes of Jesus’ messianic success that comported with their vision of the reign of God. In that vision, they would join in the prosperity of Jesus’ victory over the powers of the world. Only after suffering the loss of such dreams as a result of Jesus’ death, their own rejection by religious authorities, and persecution by pagan powers would they be in position to receive what Jesus wanted them to know.
We know this experience ourselves in other ways. Try telling someone who is happily married about how to forgive and go on after a partner’s unfaithfulness and a divorce. It wouldn’t register unless that person had experienced the betrayal. Most if not all of us will experience great failure and a loss of dreams at some point in our lives. The truth about redemption THROUGH suffering is only so much theory until such an experience becomes real and personal. To bear a truth means to receive it as a fact of life that will change you. It is more than information to be processed; it is wisdom to be lived.
When the Spirit comes to guide us into all truth, the word guide means “to lead in the way.” Jesus has already declared himself to be the true way of life (14:6), which in turn was his allusion to being the embodiment of Torah (more specifically the halacha in Hebrew, meaning “the way to walk”). Now the Spirit will be the guide for the community that Jesus was. Jesus will continue to be their guide, but now he will do so through the Spirit’s work among them.
The nature of the Spirit’s relationship to the Father and Son are further probed here. Jesus describes a kind of conversation that takes place continually between the Father and Son, a conversation to which the Spirit is privy. What the Spirit overhears, the Spirit speaks to us. The Spirit does not speak independently, so as to suggest a supersession of Christ’s ministry by the latest and greatest revelation that comes by the Spirit. The Spirit remains connected to Jesus’ ministry and always glorifies Jesus in doing so. That is, the Spirit will make Jesus known and his authority evident. The Spirit is not a usurper of Jesus by coming after him; the Spirit only makes Jesus’ identity and mission grander by extending it beyond Jesus’ human lifetime and by expanding the community of his disciples in the times to come.
But the Spirit will not only repeat to the church what Jesus said during his earthly ministry. The times to come will require wisdom on the part of the church to deal with new circumstances and to apply the gospel in unprecedented ways. The Spirit will continue to speak into the heart of the church to give guidance and discernment. Yet even then, this will be the word of God to the church that comes from the divine community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It will be an ever-timely word for the church because it will be happening in real time. The Triune God did not cease engaging in divine conversation after the day of Pentecost, leaving us only to look back while the world moves on.
Think of the church as a sailboat. It is designed to set sail, not to simply stay afloat while anchored in a harbor. The Spirit is the wind of God that propels the church from where it has been to where it must go. There is sufficient ballast in the boat—what we may say is the accumulated wisdom of the ages—allowing the church to keep an even keel when the currents of culture strike it for good or ill, or when waves of chaos smash against it. And Christ himself is the rudder in the water, giving the church the power to keep its course.
Dr. George Mason
Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas
Tags: Spirit, truth, bearing the truth, glorification, guidance