Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 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.
“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. 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.” (John 14:15-21 – NRSV)
Today’s Gospel brings together three essential themes in John’s Gospel: “Love” and “obedience” and the power of the “Advocate” to ensure the possibility of both. This is not an appeal to will power – “Get out there and love people!” and “Do as you are told!” – but rather an invitation to accept the graciousness of God, abundantly available in Jesus Christ.
We also hear the recurring themes of “abiding”, “seeing” and “truth”.
If you love me …: One scholar observes that this phrase “controls the grammar of the next two verses (15–17a), and the thought of the next six (15–21)”. (C. K. Barrett, The Gospel according to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and notes on the Greek Text (SPCK, 1978, 461.) This is the first time in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus speak to the disciples of their love for him. It is a statement of fact: If there is love there, then ……. It is definite though: If this then that, if not this then not that.
my commandments: It is not entirely clear what is meant by this phrase. One scholar suggests that “commandments” is “not simply an array of discrete ethical injunctions, but the entire revelation from the Father, revelation holistically conceived (cf. 3:31–32; 12:47–49; 17:6)”. (D A Carson, The Gospel according to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 498.)
Advocate: The Greek word is paraklēton, meaning helper, advocate or intercessor. It is related to the verb “parakaleō, (which means) ‘to call alongside’, and hence ‘to encourage’, ‘to exhort’”. (D A Carson, op cit, 499.) In the world of Jesus, the word paraklēton, was typically used in a legal sense – a legal assistant, witness or advocate in court. Although Jesus is never explicitly given this title of paraklēton in John’s Gospel, it seems likely that the reference to “another” here implies that the Holy Spirit is going to take up the work of Jesus.
the Spirit of truth: See similar references in a title used here and in 15:26; 16:13. For John’s explicit and clear references to the Holy Spirit, see also on 1:32–33; 3:5–8; 4:23–24; 6:63; 7:37–39.
You know him: The suggestion here is that the disciples actually know Jesus and his work much better than they realize. The idea of knowing is not the rational idea – common to the modern western mind-set – of propositional or creedal knowing. Rudolph Schnackenburg warns us: “In the twentieth century … consciousness of the presence of the … Spirit has to a very great extent disappeared, even in the believing community. It is possible to say that the only person who will understand the words about the Spirit is the one who has already experienced the presence of the Spirit.’ (Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Gospel according to St John, tr. by K. Smyth, C. Hastings and others, 3 vols. (Burns and Oates, 1968–82. Volume 3, 500-501.)
The intimacy of God
In today’s Gospel – John 14:15-21 – we have part of the “farewell discourses”. These “discourses” consist of more than 120 verses, including such texts as the Priestly Prayer of Christ (17:1-26) and the Parable of the Vine (15:1-11). The “discourses” contain some of the most beautiful words in John’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his “departure”. He affirms them and reiterates something they are unable to understand at this stage – the promise of the abiding and intimate presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: “the Spirit of truth (who) abides with you, and he will be in you … you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”.
These words are echoed in the Priestly Prayer of Christ: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (John 17:20-21. See also the Parable of the Vine – 15:1-12).
Jesus reveals an enduring and intimate presence of the “I AM” of Sinai. Rationally, this is preposterous. It is only the gift of faith that enables us to break through the limits of human reason and come to know the unknowable. We embrace a truth that is beyond our comprehension, beyond any words we might utter. We receive it as gift, entirely unmerited. God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.
Awareness of the indwelling Trinity is the source of true happiness. The Trinity, active with us, is also the source of the moral life. God’s abiding intimacy and active Presence becomes the source of all that we are and do. St Augustine spells out something of the implications of this: “We cannot love unless someone has loved us first. Listen to the apostle John: ‘We love him, because he first loved us’. The source of our love for God can only be found in the fact that God loved us first. God has given us himself as the object of our love, and he has also given us its source. What this source is you may learn more clearly from the apostle Paul who tells us: ‘The love of God has been poured into our hearts’. This love is not something we generate ourselves; it comes to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Office of Readings, Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Easter).
When Jesus says, at the end of the Parable of the Vine, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12), he is actually inviting us to avail ourselves of what is already given. “This love is not something we generate ourselves; it comes to us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”.