The gospel for May 14th (John 14:15-21) picks up where last week’s gospel left off. The setting is still the Last Supper. Jesus’ disciples had asked to see the Father and Jesus had replied, Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. … Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me (John 14:9-10) He develops this theme in this morning’s gospel.
As this morning’s gospel opens, Jesus told his disciples, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. He personalized the commandments with the word my. Earlier during the Last supper (John 13:34) he had also personalized his commandment when he said I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. He would further refine this personalized version in the next chapter when he said, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12).
The commandments went beyond objective, observable behaviours of not killing, not stealing, not taking the neighbour’s wife and even affirmative actions, such as keeping holy the Lord’s day or of honouring one’s parents and made them internal…matters of the heart. Jesus’ commandment was not about following rules but of loving as he himself did. It was deeply, intensely personal.
Then, looking back to his reference to the Father and forward beyond his death and resurrection he said,
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
The ‘other Advocate’, the Spirit of Truth, is someone whom the Father will send as he had sent Jesus. Clearly, this person will be someone whom the Father trusts to represent his wishes. In a sense, the Spirit of Truth is Jesus’ ‘twin’, with the same relationship to the Father and more closely related to Jesus than a normal sibling. He will sound and speak to the heart in the same way as Jesus did: You know him, because he abides with you and he will be in you.
As with the commandment to love as I have loved you, the Spirit of Truth will be hyper-personal, living in you. Jesus’ followers will know the Spirit because he abides with you.
The Spirit’s gift of wisdom will be hard to explain… the world cannot receive this person or their wisdom. It will be experienced. This very quality of the Spirit abiding in a person endows them with a kind of vision that is not of this world because it neither sees him nor knows him. It is a form of insight that embraces all humanity and all of creation. It is a cosmic perspective. A rough analogy is that trying to describe the presence of the Spirit of Truth is like trying to describe colours or a distant perspective to a blind person. It is an experience for which no language is adequate. Recall that, Jesus had described the same phenomenon to the Pharisees, when they had doubted that he had cured a man born blind,
Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains. (John 9:39-41)
The Spirit of Truth will endow Jesus’ followers with a new ‘sense’ for perceiving the world and the truth… he will be in you.
After Jesus had spoken about the Spirit and the empowering of new sight he offered a kind of refrain of four earlier statements (some from last week’s gospel). By repeating the thoughts he emphasized them and made them more memorable.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Look at these four assertions more closely for how they reflect other, mostly earlier, statements.
1. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you…. This echoes if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself…(John 14:3…last week’s gospel.)
2. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me….reinterprets the words of another Advocate,(will) be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. (John 14:16-17)
3. …because I live, you also will live…repeats a frequent theme of eternal life found in several places including Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;(John 6:54 ) and, everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:26)
4. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you…is not a repetition but a forerunner of several statements about the intimacy that Jesus will proclaim subsequently …Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, … Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; … thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:4-8)
The gospel concludes:
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’
Jesus made his gospel deeply personal. It was about my commandments, ‘loving me’, and ‘him loving them and revealing himself to them’. Salvation would not be about wandering around in some eternal religious theme park (yech!) but of an intimate relationship with Jesus, the Christ…and all of creation.
As a gospel of the season of Easter, these words from the Last Supper remind us that, even when he faced imminent death, Jesus was able to look beyond it to a way of living that transcended the moment and was defined, not by time but by intimate relationship with himself and the Father, animated by their one Spirit.