John 14:15-21. The Paraclete.

While we are currently celebrating the resurrection of Jesus during this six week span of Easter, this reading for the sixth Sunday of Easter  looks backwards in liturgical time. This passage, from John 14, is situated in the upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus is presiding over the Last Supper with the disciples. However, Jesus is speaking about the future, and the role the Holy Spirit will play after Jesus completes his earthly ministry and “returns” to heaven:

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to be with you always; the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it.

The term “advocate” that the NAB translation uses is a quasi-literal approximation of the Greek word that John chose in the original language: paraclete.  The paraclete is a term that approximately means something like legal advocate, counselor or helper.   In fact, the term means “called to one’s side” in Greek.  That is why the Latin equivalent is advocatus, which comes from the root terms “ad” (to) and “vocare” (to call).    The term paraclete has no equivalent in the Septuagint, suggesting that the term has no theological precedent either in Judaism or the Hebrew language.

Another loose translation of paraclete in English might be “comforter.”  That is not a literal Greek translation, but the Fathers of the early Church seem to interpret the term that way.

The Gospel reading in John chapter 14 is not only meant to reassure the disciples (as Jesus is about to be arrested), it is also an exposition on the theology of the Holy Spirit.  The theology is quite simple: where Jesus is not physically present in person, God is present spiritually – in the “person” of the Advocate – the Holy Spirit.

This theology helps to reconcile how we distinguish between God-become-man and the presence of God when Jesus is not around.  For that reason, we generally try not to say “I know Jesus is spiritually present,” though many Christians, especially those with no understanding of the Trinity, do.   We acknowledge the presence of Jesus (in this world) in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in the Liturgy and the actions of people… and these are tangible realities.  But we generally do not turn Jesus into a spiritual object, because the spiritual presence of God is generally attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I had mentioned in a previous post that John chapter 14 is discourse unique to John. This “farewell discourse” and the subsequent “high priestly prayer” of John chapter 17 are not to be found in Matthew, Mark or Luke.

One wonders whether John deliberately included the discourse on the “advocate” not as happenstance but because John knew that this Trinitarian theology was missing from the Synoptic Gospels. John’s Gospel is very Trinitarian, since he carefully defines each member of the Trinity.  Only John the Evangelist uses paraclete as a synonym for “Holy Spirit.”

John’s Trinitarian theology is weaved into the text of his Gospel.  He provides a sophisticated interpretation of the Word incarnate, Jesus, in John 1:1-14.  He speaks of the Father in John 14: 1-14. Finally, he explains the paraclete (the Holy Spirit) in John 14:15-26.

Whereas paraclete can only be found in john’s Gospel, the term pneuma (spirit) is used 16 times in Matthew’s Gospel, 19 times in Mark’s Gospel, and 30 times in Luke’s Gospel. John’s Gospel uses pneuma as well.

A further reflection on this passage comes from the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, which I have paraphrased in places for the sake of simplicity:

We also find in this Gospel passage the mysterious Trinitarian “movement” that leads the Holy Spirit and the Son to dwell in the disciples. Here, it is Jesus himself who promises that he will ask the Father to send his Spirit, defined as “another Paraclete” (Jn 14: 16), a Greek word that is equivalent to the Latin “ad-vocatus”, an advocate-defender. The first Paraclete is in fact [Jesus] who came to defend man from the accuser by antonomasia, who is Satan. At the moment when Christ returns to the Father [after the Resurrection,] he sends the Spirit as Defender and Consoler to remain with believers for ever, dwelling within them. Thus, through the mediation of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, an intimate relationship of reciprocity is established between God the Father and the disciples: “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”, Jesus says (Jn 14: 20). However, all this depends on one condition which Christ imposes clearly at the beginning: “If you love me” (Jn 14: 15), and which he repeats at the end: “He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him” (Jn 14: 21). Without love for Jesus, which is expressed in the observance of his commandments, the person is excluded from the Trinitarian movement and begins to withdraw into himself, losing the ability to receive and to communicate God.


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