John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
As with almost any text in John, the Gospel text for Pentecost (John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15) is evocative, fascinating, and confusing by turns.
Don’t expect me to clear it all up and tie it with a bow for you. These Monday Meditations are just my journey into next Sunday’s Gospel. I hope you’ll come with me even it the road goes into the woods.
Under the heading “evocative” come Jesus’ statements about the origin of the Spirit.
The Spirit “comes from the Father” but is “sent” by the Son. An important point of classic (especially Eastern) Trinitarian theology lies here.
- This passage agrees with the East, and the original text of the Nicene Creed, where the Spirit where the Spirit “proceeds from the Father.”
- This contrasts with the Western editing of the Creed to say the Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son.”
Ecumenism still hasn’t overcome that thousand-year-old foundational difference between the Catholic and Orthodox understanding of God — though it isn’t what speaks to me in the text today.
“Fascinating” is my heading for the work of the Holy Spirit here, our “Advocate” who is named in particular the “Spirit of Truth.” This distinctive name seems to indicate Jesus’ understanding of one of the main things the Spirit will do after his ascension.
He has not taught everything that is to be taught. In his absence the Disciples are not left to their own reasoning prowess. Instead God the Holy Spirit will be with them to guide them “into all truth.” This is part and parcel of the work of the Spirit “testifying” to what Jesus has said; taking what belongs to Jesus and declaring it to the disciples.
Jesus said this would actually be better for the disciples, but I’m hard pressed to think they believed him.
But I need the Spirit do do this good work — and clearly the Church as a whole needs it.
It is genuinely difficult to know and hold to the truth in this world. Christians are often at odds with each other on any topic that incites passion.
It is easy to look at the views of large groups of Christians, contrasting them to issues written deeply widely into every part of Holy Scripture, and suspect that these Christians have actually sold their souls.
Better to focus on my own need to stay close to Jesus, to abide in him like a branch in a vine as John 15 earlier emphasized. Then, so close that his life flows in me, I can trust that the Spirit will indeed guide me to truth — even if it comes at the end of a long circuitous path of confusion.
And the “confusing” parts?
First, of course, is why the lectionary omits a crucial piece of the middle of the text. (The reason is probably obvious once you read it, but I wish they wouldn’t trim out bits of the Scriptures.)
To my mind the more important bits of confusion are found in Jesus’ reasons for the Spirit’s work of “convicting” or “reproving” the world of sin, righteousness, and coming judgment.
Don’t get me wrong: it seems eminently clear that without the Spirit’s guidance, we will mistake sin for righteousness, and vice versa, on a regular basis. And we’ll completely displace concern with judgment to come with our own deeply held prejudices that those who disagree with us will fall under that judgment.
Whether on the left or the right, we readily take our sense of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement from the culture, or our own subculture. How desperately we need the Spirit’s conviction and reproof as Jesus promised.
But Jesus’ reasons for these things?
- Sin because of people’s disbelief in Jesus
- Righteousness because of Jesus’ ascension
- Judgment because of the condemnation of Satan
There are logical turns here that are inscrutable, only partially explained with insights from Paul and other biblical authors. Many Christians proclaim these things, but I think their confidence exceeds their understanding.
I often find myself glossing past these reasons in verses 9-11, holding fast to the clearer and more helpful declaration that the Spirit does, in fact, bring this clarity.
I wonder what I can do to more fully embrace the promised Spirit.
I wonder what I can do to take my understanding of Truth from that Spirit rather than from the world around me.
I wonder what in my life will change when that happens.
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