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.
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 text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 8, 2016.
All four canonical Gospels report that Jesus, after the supper and before his arrest, prayed. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the reported prayer is in Gethsemane and poured out in anguish for himself, for his being spared the cup of suffering, yet for the will of God to be done. In John’s Gospel, the reported prayer is in a room with his disciples and is substantially for them, as well as for future believers. The prayer has been understood by the church to be of enormous significance. It has often been called his “High-Priestly Prayer,” because it is offered on the verge of his final sacrifice, making supplication for his people in an intimate sanctity that could rightly be called “the Holy of Holies.”
One measure of its importance to the church is the fact that every year, parts of it are assigned to the final Sunday of the Easter season. The Revised Common Lectionary apportions John 17 as follows: Year A, 17:1-11; Year B, 17:6-19; Year C, 17:20-26. These divisions roughly correspond to the three natural divisions of the prayer: Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5), for his disciples (17:6-19), and for future believers (17:20-26).
This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on May 1, 2016.
This text touches on several themes, not all of them clearly connected, so the first challenge for a preacher is deciding which part(s) of it to preach. The farewell discourse (John 13-17), like other extended speeches of Jesus in John’s Gospel, does not always move with a linear logic but in something more like a spiral. Various themes are repeated in different places, and as the text circles back to them, they do not always seem directly related to what immediately precedes or follows. So here in quick succession we find the themes of loving Jesus and keeping his words, Jesus and the Father abiding with disciples, the role of the Advocate, the peace that Jesus gives, the counsel to have no anxiety or fear, the departure and return of Jesus, his relation to the Father, and a call to rejoice and believe. Connections can certainly be found among these verses, but any attempt to treat them all in a single sermon would likely fail to give any of them its due. The text’s assigned parameters in the lectionary seem arbitrary, and we will likely need to be selective, choosing smaller portions of the text to explore.
A helpful device for understanding the farewell discourse was offered by Fred Craddock, who once compared the disciples here to children playing on the floor and looking up to see their parent putting on hat and coat. The children ask anxious questions: Where are you going? Can we go, too? What will we do while you are gone? Who will stay with us? Jesus answers the first question: “I go to prepare a place for you.” (14:2) He answers the second: “Where I am going you cannot come, but you will come later.” (13:33, 36) He answers the third, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (13:34) The fourth question—“Who will stay with us?”—he addresses no fewer than five times. The text before us includes the second of these. He had already said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… he abides with you and will be in (or among) you.” (14:16) Now he adds in 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” These words are arresting, and may have useful connections to other parts of our text.