Reflection on the Sixth Sunday of Easter
Today’s Gospel takes us right into the heart, the human heart, and the core, the center of Jesus’ message. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, and he’s trying to explain to them what it will mean for them. He’s trying to tell them that he will be with them even though he will be gone … and that’s pretty hard talking. To get the apostles to understand how deeply he is actually here, but not the way they’ve grown used to seeing him. “I’m not going to leave you orphans,” he insists, over and over, and he repeats that beautiful word — “I will abide with you,” or, I’ll remain, — I will remain with you. And even more confusing, he wants to convince them that IF — and this is a critical caveat — IF they are following what he has taught them, he will be living in them, remaining in and with them. He’s saying that IF they are faithful followers, he is living in them. He is alive if they are faithful to his teaching. If they are faithful, it is the sure sign that Jesus lives.
He’s trying to get it in their heads and their hearts that “the world” is not going to “see” him — but they will “see” him. ( I’m taking a little sidetrack here with the Greek word see: I think (I’m not sure ) the Greek verb for see is associated (here) with gnosis — which is an internal sort of visioning, and would mean something like we mean when we say “OH, I GET it!”— the word for see. Jesus seems to be warning his followers that they shouldn’t be surprised if some of their associates think they’re crazy when they talk about Jesus. What Jesus wants them to know is that no matter what happens, he will be living, AND he will be living in them.
What about us?
Now let’s look at the setting. Things have gotten tight. The disciples are gathered with Jesus for what will probably be their last supper together and this time together, this meal, was a very precious moment for them. We can imagine the atmosphere must have been heavy. Jesus knew he was coming to the end of his time with his friends; he knew he — and they with him — were facing into very powerful and angry opposition. Jesus must have been wondering what would become of them when he was gone; his teachings were radicaI, totally unorthodox; — he had gathered everybody — anybody — in his group — Samaritans, lepers, women! — and the payoff was bound to be serious, even bloody. He knew — they all knew — the time had come. Jesus can feel their anxiety. What on earth will they do if anything happens to him? He knows they’ll be scared to death. And wasn’t he scared, too?
In John’s record of these events, it’s hard to escape the intensity of his insistence that Jesus promises that he will never leave his disciples “orphaned,” as he expresses it. Jesus insists that he remains with his followers, and that he lives in his followers.
What could Jesus do? “I will not leave you orphans, “ he says. I will give you another Advocate … and here the Greek is Paraclete — which means some sort of helper — for you. And this new advocate Jesus identifies as the Spirit of Truth! Why do you think he chose TRUTH? Wouldn’t Love have come first? Think of our own experience of persons’ “spirit” — someone whom you might say has a marvelous spirit of hospitality, or trust, energy for generosity, or humor. But Jesus is bestowing on his friends is a spirit of Truth! Does Jesus foresee that continuing to live faithful to what he has taught them is going to be costly for his friends — (and himself?) — that at times they’ll be tempted to fall back? This Spirit, Jesus says, doesn’t come and go; this Spirit will remain with you, will be with you always, will be in you. The world, Jesus says, neither sees nor knows this Spirit, but you — faithful followers — will see and know this Spirit. Jesus is telling us that this Spirit remains in our world today. This Spirit is alive in us.
Do you remember that, in John’s Gospel, when Pilate was questioning Jesus’ life-purpose, Jesus responded, “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.“ And Pilate left us with the question: What Is Truth?
Our reflection might leave us with these questions: (or find your own!)
— Jesus says that he remains, lives on, through the Spirit of Truth in his followers.
How aware am I of this —- where do I see it — in others, in my own life?
Where or when do I struggle with truth, and is Jesus present in the process?