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13. The Interpreter who stays with us

In the Synoptic Gospels we find only brief recollections of the Last Supper. In John, five long and beautiful chapters are devoted to the same event (Jn13 - 17). The sorrow of the moment runs through them as a theme.

"I am returning to him who sent me.... and now that I have told you. Your hearts are full of sadness" (Jn16,5-6)

"Do not be troubled or upset. Do not be afraid" Jn14,27.1)

"You will be sad, but your sorrow will turn into gladness" (Jn16.20)

The reason of the sadness is Jesus' repeated announcement: "I shall not be with you much longer" (Jn13,33). "I am going to the Father" (Jn14,12). "I am leaving you" (Jn14,27). "Until now I was with you. But now I am returning to him who sent me" (Jn16,4-5). "I am going away" (Jn16,7). "In a little while you shall see me no more" (Jn16,16). Jesus is taking leave. The five chapters are presented by John as Jesus' parting words, his farewell speech. Why all the drama, we might ask? Why is Jesus departure such a traumatic event in John's eyes? What is the issue at stake?

Some authors maintain that the farewell discourse contains all the elements we would expect Jesus to have talked about in the evening before his Passion: Judas' treason. Peter's denial. the imminent suffering and resurrection, the command of mutual love.(1) Others point out that John has put together in one sermon what in the Synoptics is dispersed as Jesus' private teaching to his disciples. John made one speech of it.(2) Others again remind us of Old Testament parallels. Famous leaders such as Moses, Joshua and Samuel delivered farewell speeches before they died. John may well have followed this pattern. (3) All these observations are valuable and help us to situate the discourse. But they miss the central point.

John has told us that Jesus is the final revelation of the Father. He is the Word. Hearing him we hear the Father speak. Seeing him is like seeing the Father himself. If such is the case, then this special revelation was very shortlived! For only those few who had actually spoken to Jesus and seen him could have been the recipients of that revelation. For all the others, revelation would always remain second-rate; or more'precisely: second hand. They would only know God from hearsay!

In the early years after the resurrection great value was attached to the eye-witnesses: those who had actually known Jesus in the flesh (Lk 1,2). This was natural. But the consequences soon appeared. People began to distinguish between two categories of Christians: those who had seen God in the flesh and those who had not. And when the original eye-witnesses died the despondency was even greater; as when the Beloved Disciple, the great pillar, was taken away from the Johannine community. What had remained of the unique belief that God actually lived among us, was visible to us?

Lasting presence

For the early Christians the question was intimately bound up with Jesus' second coming. They were very much under the impression that Jesus would return as judge in the immediate future. Jesus' statement that it might happen 'any moment' led to the belief that it would take place within a lifetime. "All these things will happen before the people who live now have all died!" (Mk 13.30). Some Johannine communities were convinced Jesus would return before the Beloved Disciplie Died (Jn21, 20-23). If there was only one generation between Jesus' going to the Father and his second coming, eye-witnesses could span the gap. But when Jesus' second coming was delayed, the question of his revealing presence became more acute than ever.

To do justice to John's resonse we will have to understand it as a two-step assurance. The first step is; even though Jesus has gone back to the Father, he stays with us as a tangible, life-giving presence. No doubt, John draws here on a common Christian conviction. Jesus who is "God with us" (Mt 1, 23) had promised that he would remain with us till the end of time (Mt 28, 20). Paul could write that it was no longer he that lived, but Christ who lived in him (Gal 2,20). and that all he wanted was to know Chris and experience the power of his resurrection (Phil 3, 10). John expresses the same conviction but in Jesus' lasting presene in eight synonymour formulations. (The last three of which have been rephrased as a direct address for the sake of comparison).

"I will not lealve you orphans".

"I will come back to you".

"You will see me".

"You will live because I live".

"You will know that you are in me, as I am in you".

"My Father and I will love you".

"I will reveal myself to you".

"My Father and I will come to you and make our home in you".

Notice how all these expressions refer to revelation. Jesus will make his presence known! No question therefore of an invisible indwelling firmly believed in, but not noticeable in any tangible manner. "I will reveal myself". "You will see". "You will know". "I will come to you". When Jesus says, "You will live", he means, "You will feel a new kind of life in you, because I live in you". When he says the Father and he will love us, he means that they will make us feel their love. Jesus is stating unequivocally that his disciples will experience his presence and recognise it as such.(4)

This promise is addressed not only to the twelve apostles, but also to later generations, to those who were to accept the message through their preaching (17,20). This is brought out forcefully by the question of Judas the Zealot. Why, does the apostle ask, will Jesus reveal himself to them in a special way, not meant for 'the world" (14,22). Jesus' reply is instructive. No one is excluded from this special revelation. Anyone will receive it - the only condition being, what he had already said earlier, that the person concerned should obey Jesus' commands, the commands of love (Jn14,23; see also Jn14,21). Any true disciple of Jesus, anyone who puts into effect the love Jesus demanded in the Sermon on the Mount (see 13,34), an y such sincere follower will know Jesus personally, will see him, experience his love, hear his revelation, feel his life-giving power.

The Breath of God

The second assurance John gives us in his Gospel is that Jesus will stay with us through his Spirit. John derives this promise from a strong, ancient Christian tradition, but he works it out with renewed clarity and conviction. Jesus who was himself anointed with the Spirit (Mk 1,10), would baptise his followers with fire and the Holy Spirit (Mk 1,8; Mt 3,11; compare Jn 1,32-34). Jesus promised that his Father would give the Spirit to all who would ask for it earnestly and insistently (Lk 11,13). The early Church treasured the memory of having received the Spirit with powerful manifestations soon after Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2,1-42; Lk 24,49). The followers of Jesus knew they possessed Jesus' Spirit (Gal 3,3-5; Rom 8, 1-17; 1 Cor 12,1-11).

The Spirit, as we know from the Old Testament, was the breath of God's power. It made people do things they could never have done on their own. It turned farmers into prophets, cowards into martyrs and stammerers into eloquent witnesses. This is how Jesus himself saw the Spirit.

"When you will be arrested and put on trial, do not worry about what to say. You will not be speaking, but the Holy Spirit will be speaking in you" Mk 13,11

For John, too, the Holy Spirit is seen in his actions. But in line with his main preoccupation he stresses that the Spirit has a revelatory function. He will teach the disciples about everything and make them remember what Jesus had taught (Jn14,25). He will lead them into the full truth and announce things to come (Jn16,13). He will do this as Jesus' Spirit, continuing Jesus' revelation (Jn16,13-15). This is also the meaning of the specifically Johannine expression "the Spirit of Truth" (Jn14,13.17; 15,26; 16,13). He puts us in touch with the "truth" that is the everlasting reality of God. He is therefore a reliable teacher, diametrically opposed to the spirit of falsehood(1 Jn 4,6) who seduces and misleads. The Spirit is also called "the Paraclete" by John (Jn14,16.26; 15,26). Commentators are at a loss to define both the origin and precise meaning of the term. In Greek the word denotes a counsel for the defence, someone speaking on behalf of someone else. Does it mean that the Spirit defends Jesus and his disciples in their court case against the world (Jn16,7-11)? Or should we rather think of the great mediators between God and his people, who according to popular Jewish belief pleaded with God for them: Abraham, Moses, Noah, the archangel Michael?(5) In 1 Jn 2,1 Jesus himself is said to be such a pleader for us with the Father. These associations are obviously there, but I feel personally more attracted to the suggestion that the term stands more properly for "interpreter", "translator".(6) At least, this is what the Paraclete seems to be doing most of all: translating what Jesus had said into a meaningful message in new circumstances. He becomes a source of life-giving water that springs from the heart of every believer (Jn7,37-39). In this way Jesus remains present through his Spirit.

Identity of persons?

An obvious question presents itself here. What is the difference between Jesus' continued presence and the coming of the Spirit? The answer is not so simple. To some extent both may be looked upon as alternative ways of expressing the same reality. It is significant that the promise of Jesus' presence (Jn14,18-24) is embedded in the context of announcing the Spirit (Jn14,15-17 and 14,25-26 This is no coincidence. The outpouring of the Spirit and Jesus' life in us are two aspects of the same Christian experience.(7)

Moreover, whatever is said regarding the Spirit has been said elsewhere in the Gospel regarding Jesus. Like Jesus he is sent by the Father (Jn14,26) and comes into the world (16,7.13). As Jesus is the Holy One of God (Jn6,69), he is the Holy Spirit (Jn14,26); as Jesus is the Truth (Jn14,6), he is the Spirit of Truth (Jn14,13; etc). Only believers will know and see him (Jn14,17); as only believers will know and see Jesus (Jn14,19-20). He lives in the disciples (Jn14,17), as Jesus lives in them (Jn14,20; 15,4; etc). The Spirit may therefore be truly called another Jesus. (8).

We also observe that the Spirit's main task is to manifest Jesus. He is 'another Paraclete' that is: he succeeds Jesus as Paraclete (Jn14,16). His task as successor could only begin after Jesus had gone (Jn16,7; 7,39). The Paraclete is sent by the Father on Jesus' request (Jn14,16) and in Jesus' name (Jn14,26). He is sent by Jesus himself (Jn16,7) and speaks whatever Jesus tell him (16,13-15), just as Jesus only said what the Father told him to (Jn14,24). The Spirit will glorify Jesus (Jn16,14), just as Jesus glorifies the Father (Jn12,27-28; 17,4; etc.) The Spirit manifests Jesus as Jesus manifests the Father.

Here we are back to the heart of John's teaching. Jesus made his Father visibly present among us on earth. After his death and resurrection, he remains with us but in another form: through his visible manifestation in us as the Spirit. We are not less privileged than Jesus' contemporaries. We too,can know God in tangible form. If we embrace Jesus' commandment of love we will see his Spirit living and working in us.

God awareness

The texts we have been considering have helped the Church of the first four centuries formulate its doctrine on the Blessed Trinity. As I have stated before, we should resist the temptation to project such developed theological notions into John's Gospel.208 More prominent in John's thinking and more important for us, is the unicity of God. There is only one God. He is a loving Father who became visible to us in a manifestation, the Son. The Son, whose whole purpose is to reveal the Father, lives in us through the Spirit. What does this mean?

It means that to be a Christian involves having a tangible experience of God, knowing God experientially. We may not reduce faith to the intellectual acceptance of notional truths, however exalted they may be. As Christians we know God as a God of love because we see him visibly at work in our lives. He fills our heart with joy and peace He creates a new space which gives meaning to our relationships. He gives us unexpected power and makes us do marvels we had never dreamt of. It is the Father reaching out to us, dwelling in us. Meeting Jesus in his word and sacraments we meet the Father. Responding to Jesus' Spirit in us, we respond to the Father showing his love. As Christians we are experts on God; not with the expertise of academic learning but with the familiarity that comes from a long and intimate contact. We know him as children know their father.

For reflection. Streams of life-giving water

During the Feast of Tabernacles special prayers were offered for rain. For seven days in succession water was drawn from the fountain of Gihon in a golden pitcher and carried in procession to the Temple. The people would sing, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Is 12,3). On the seventh day the water was carried seven times round the altar before it was poured out. Jesus used this occasion to teach about the new water he would be offering. Whoever believes in him will feel that his own heart has become a spring of life-giving water. John explains that Jesus was talking about the Spirit whom his followers would receive (read Jn7,37-39).

When did I become first aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in my heart? Was it during a retreat, a prayer session, or through reading a book? Can I recapture the moment of that discovery?

Of course, the Holy Spirit has been at work in me from early childhood. Can I remember moments in my childhood when I was moved, when I felt inspired, when I was drawn to do something good - feelings which I now realise were the work of the Spirit in me?

How does the Spirit of Jesus manifest himself now in my life? Has he made my heart a spring of life-giving water?

When we examine our life, in what areas do we need the help of the Spirit most? In our prayer? In our apostolic witness? Do we need inner healing? Or do we just require a lot of consolation and encouragement? Let us humbly express our needs to the Spirit.

Foot Notes

1 A. M. HUNTER, According to John. A New Look at the Fourth Gospel. Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1968, pp.98ff.

2. C. H. DODD, Interpretation (see note 35), pp.390 ff.

3. Dt 31,1-32,47; Jos 23,1-24,30; t Sam 12,1-25; etc. Cf. T. E. CRANE, The Message of St. John, Alba House, New York 1980, p.93.

4. J. N. M. WIJNGAARDS, Experiencing Jesus, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1983, pp.9-27; Come and See, Theological Publications in India, Bangalore 1980, pp.3-25.

5. A rather exhaustive list of possibilities is offered by O. BETZ, Der Paraklet, Brill, Leiden 1963; esp. pp.142-143 (Noah), pp. 53.150-155 (Michael). See also: U. B. MULLER, "Die Parakletenvorstellung in Johannesevangelium", Leitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche 71 (1974) 31-7,

6. H. F. WOODHOUSE, "The Interpreter", Biblical Theology 18 (1968) 51-53; H. SCHLIER, ''The Holy Spirit as interpreter according to St.John's Gospel", Communio 1 (1974) 128-141.

7. "Indwelling by the Father and Jesus is tantamount to indwelling by the Spirit", A. R. C. LEANEY, "The Historical Background and Theological Meaning of the Paraclete", Duke Divinity School Review 37 (1972) 146-159.

8. R. E. BROWN, The Gospel according to John (see note 35), vol II, pp.1135-1144; "The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel", New Testament Studies 13 (1966/67) 113-132.


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