Thought for the day
“Silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation” is variously attributed. Whoever penned it, it strikes a chord on the feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. As we stand before the absolute mystery of God, one and three, transcendent and immanent, greater than our hearts and yet closer to us than we are to ourselves, wordless prayer is fitting. And yet…the Mysterious Silence has been broken, if not by “mere” words then certainly by the Word made flesh, whose Spirit has been poured into our hearts.
God, beyond our minds and ideas, our hearts and our feelings, we believe absolutely in your love for each and for all. Let your astonishing love kindle in our inner selves a response of love and wonder. Amen.
John 16:12 [Jesus said:] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
The Fourth Gospel is in two parts: The Book of Signs (1-12) and the Book of Glory (13-20+21). Within the Book of Glory, the farewell discourse of Jesus takes up most of five chapters. The outline is as follows:
THE BOOK OF GLORY (13:1-20:31)
A. The Last Discourse (13:1-17:26)
a. Making God known: the foot wash ing and the morsel (13:1-38)
b. Departure (14:1-31)
c. To abide, to love, and to be hated (15:1-16:3)
b1. Departure (16:4-33)
a1. Making God known: Jesus’ final prayer (17:1-26)
When a text is laid out in a pattern like this (a-b-c-b1-a1), the important question to ask is whether the physical centre of the pattern (here c. 15:1-16:3) is the centre of meaning or the heart of the matter. When the outer parts correspond (e.g. b and b1), then the reader is entitled to read one in the light of other.
In our case, the promise of continued presence through the Spirit is treated twice, that is, in chapters 14 and 16, and these chapters ought to be read in light of each other.
Kind of writing
The farewell speech is fairly well established as a literary genre in the Old Testament and the apocryphal books of the intertestamental period. There are numerous examples, like the blessings of Jacob to his children in Gen 47:29-49:33, the farewell of Joshua to the nation of Israel in Josh 22-24, and David’s farewell speech in 1 Chron 28-29. In the Deuterocanonical books we have the farewell speech of Tobit from his deathbed in Tobit 14:3-11. Elsewhere, the entire contents of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are farewell speeches, patterned after Jacob’s final address in Genesis. The Book of Jubilees gives farewell speeches for Noah (ch. 10), Abraham (chs. 20-22), and Rebecca and Isaac (chs. 35-36). Josephus includes a farewell address for Moses. The features found there are also here in John 13-17: imminent death, synthesis of teaching, promise of presence-in-absence, future challenges, the unity of the surviving members.
Old Testament background
There is an interesting and wide background to the Spirit in the Old Testament (both in Hebrew and in Greek). The Spirit and creation: Gen 1:2; Job 33:4; Ps 104:30. The Spirit is a saving power: Ex 14:21; 1 Kings 18:45. The Spirit guides history and people: Judges 3:10; 6:34, 1 Sam 10:1-13; 16:13. The prophets are inspired by the Spirit: Isa. 34:16; 63:10; Ezek. 18:31). It was expected that the final, messianic age would be the age of the Spirit: on rulers (Isa. 11:1-10; 42:1; 61:1); on the whole people; Isa. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 39:29; Joel 2:28[3:28] changing hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (Isa. 59:21; Ezek. 36:26-27). Late pre-NT Judaism emphasises the Spirit of prophecy, of revelation and guidance (Sir. 48:24), of wisdom (Wis. 7:7; 9:17; 1QH 12:11–13), and occasionally of praise.
New Testament foreground
The Holy Spirit is central to the religious imagination of the Fourth Gospel, being the link between God, the believer and Jesus. Here are some of the important texts.
Jesus has the Holy Spirit: And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32–33) On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39)
Jesus’ death “releases” the Holy Spirit: When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (lit. he handed over his Spirit; John 19:30)
The spirit is the special gift of the Risen Lord: Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22–23)
Believers are reborn in the Spirit: Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5–8) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23–24)
The Spirit / Advocate has three tasks: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. (John 14:16) 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. (John 14:26) “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26)
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Rom 8:9–11)
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26–27)
Verse 12 Understanding later is a key feature of this Gospel: 2:22; 12:16; 14:25-26, 16:12-13; 20:9. This developed emphasis surely reflects the experience of the first generation of believers as they read the ministry in the light of the resurrection. “Now” continues the fiction that these words—from the hand of the evangelist—go back to the actual time before the death of Jesus.
Verse 13 Spirit and truth are closely connected in the Johannine writings: John 4:23–24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:6; 5:6. “Truth” here is interpersonal and even personal, because Jesus himself, in this Gospel, is the way, the truth and the life: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Verse 14 Glory and glorification do not refer in this Gospel to honour, or reputation etc. Instead, glory is a category that has to do with revelation, precisely the revelation of God’s compassionate love through the lifting up of Jesus on the cross and into the resurrection. “He will glorify me” needs to be translated as follows: the function of the Holy Spirit is to bring into the hearts of believers that very love between Jesus and the Father, so that God’s compassionate love, revealed through the Pascal Mystery, may live in the centre of our being. In that exhilarating sense, “he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
Verse 15 This wonderful gift of relationship takes us back to the Father, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Pointers for prayer
1. Wisdom about life comes slowly and sometimes painfully. Hearing the ‘right’ answer at the ‘wrong’ time does not help us. We need to be ready and open to receiving the truth if it is to have any impact. Perhaps you can recall some occasions when it was the ‘right’ time for you to learn a truth about life. Remember your experiences of growing in understanding and truth.
2. Perhaps the Spirit guided you through the words of someone close to you, or through the words and actions of people you read about or saw on TV. Or maybe understanding came to you when praying or reflecting on your life. Remember and give thanks for the people who have helped you to greater wisdom on your journey through life.
3. Wisdom is handed on from person to person, and from generation to generation, within families, within communities, etc. Are there any particular gems of wisdom that you cherish from what has been handed on to you?
God, your name is veiled in mystery, yet we dare to call you Father; your Son was begotten before all ages, yet is born among us in time; your Holy Spirit fills the whole creation, yet is poured forth now into our hearts.
Because you have made us and loved us and called us by your name, draw us more deeply into your divine life, that we may glorify you rightly, through your Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.