Year A: Sixth Sunday of Easter

The Advocate

John 14: 15-21

Jesus said to his disciples: “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 always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have you experienced being in sync with (keeping) the commandments as a consequence of your love for God rather than your effort to obey? How do these differ for you?
  2. Do you think of Jesus as remaining with you and dwelling within you? If so, how does this belief affect your prayer life?
  3. Do you pray specifically to the Holy Sprit? What do you consider the Holy Spirit’s role in your prayer?
  4. Share a time when you have tried to follow the guidance of the Advocate– (Holy Spirit) in your life? How do you go about discerning the Spirit’s movement and what tells you that movement is the Spirit, rather than yourself?
  5. When have you had an experience of Jesus revealing himself to you? Tell the story.

Biblical Context

John 14: 15-21
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

In today’s Gospel John returns us to our seat at the Last Supper. After calling on the disciples to trust him beyond all else, John has Jesus proclaim: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate.” That might make us think someone is impersonating Jesus at the table. It’s as if Jesus were saying, “If you behave yourselves I’ll ask God to send you help.” That is one way to interpret this Gospel fragment; it focuses our attention on the relative merits of our behavior with the hope that we can demonstrate enough virtue to pass muster. But that interpretation flounders when Jesus goes on to speak of a Spirit of truth that the world cannot perceive. With the idea of putting in great effort, pulling your own weight and earning everything you get is exactly the system of the world — so the world should understand it quite well. Jesus must be speaking of something else.

When we listen carefully, we hear that Jesus isn’t talking about obedience but about loving him. He’s talking about the transformation that happens when, as Jesuit Pedro Arrupe is to have said, we fall in love with God “in a quite absolute and final way.” Falling in love with another person changes our perspective, we see the world differently and understand everything in relation to the beloved. People who love one another often take on some of the characteristics of the other. Long-time married couples often even start to look like each another. Such love points toward what Jesus described here.

The love Jesus is talking about is devotion to the one who loved us first, whose love for us is immeasurable. This love is a commitment to the one who offers us a future of life beyond our imagining. The love Jesus is talking about orients absolutely everything else in our life. So when he says “If you love me you will keep my commandments,” we could easily rephrase that to say, “If you love me you will share my perspective and desire.”

John presents Jesus as saying this in the context of his farewell address to the disciples. Jesus knows, as do we the readers, that they are frail followers. If they haven’t been able to comprehend him already, they will need even more help when he is no longer physically with them. John had all of us in mind as he recorded the rest of this conversation. Jesus promised the disciples he would ask the Father to send them “another advocate,” the Spirit who would continue his role with them. Jesus described this Spirit as the Spirit of truth whom the world neither sees nor knows. The clear implication is that disciples do somehow see and know the Spirit.

To “see” implies a sense perception. Seeing is more than passive. “Seeing” involves taking in sensory data and organizing it, focusing on some things and ignoring others to give meaning to the light and shade and varied shapes within our range of vision. “Knowing” is non-material, it refers to the dimension of the mind and the spiritual. To know someone is not just to recognize a face or to be able to call her or him by name. Knowing involves relationship. To know others is to be connected with them. It implies that we understand the person from his or her own perspective. Knowing someone necessarily implies a degree of empathy, of feeling together. When Jesus states that disciples see and know the Spirit it’s simply one more way of drawing out the implications of their love for him. To the degree that they love him, they see as he sees and want his Spirit to animate them, to help them remain true to who he is calling them to be.

The role of the Spirit in the life of disciples is expressed quite beautifully in Eucharistic Prayer 4 which says: “That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him … he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe, so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.”

Loving Christ opens us to the Spirit who empowers us to bring Christ’s work to completion. Or as Jesus said so simply, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.”

Proclaim the Christ

Reflection
By Katy Beedle Rice

Over the past few decades, California pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp has popularized the idea of the “fourth trimester.” Theorizing that human infants (due to their growing head circumferences) are necessarily born three months too soon, he proposes a method of parenting that simulates life in the womb by incorporating rocking movement, skin-on-skin contact, and rhythmic sounds that echo a mother’s heartbeat, as ways to ease newborns into their new existence post-birth.

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, their friend and teacher, the disciples of the early church faced a transition just as shattering and transformational as the one from womb to world. Their understanding and experience of life had been fundamentally altered in their encounter with the risen Jesus. And, we could say, in the 40 days from resurrection to ascension, Jesus offers the disciples their own “fourth trimester” of sorts to become acclimated to this new way of interacting with him.

But just as their time with the earthly Jesus ended, so too will the time they share with him post-resurrection. And after the ascension once again they will transition to a new way of being in this world, a new way of being connected to Jesus, the True Vine, and listening for the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

In today’s Gospel Jesus prepares his friends for this time that will come. He assures them, “I will not leave you orphans.” This verse in John is the only time the term “orphan” is heard in all four Gospels. And it gives us a new image of Jesus, that of a parent. In this parenting, Jesus is joined by a new figure he introduces as the “Advocate … the Spirit of truth.”

The disciples are moving into a new time — one of great hope and also of great pain. Shortly after promising to send them the Advocate, Jesus tells the disciples why they will need one: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20).

Our first reading picks up after Stephen is stoned in Jerusalem — the first of the apostles to be martyred. As many disciples are scattered from Jerusalem, Philip finds himself in Samaria. Instead of seeking shelter and protection, we are told he “proclaimed the Christ to them” thereby sharing the joy of the good news at every opportunity.

The second reading is drawn from the First Letter of Peter, who, tradition suggests, wrote it shortly before his martyrdom in Rome. Peter urges the community to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” Indeed, that is the audacious message of these first followers of Jesus — continue to proclaim the Christ to all who will listen even as your very lives are demanded of you.

In our own lives as Christians we also face challenges, persecutions and transitions. Some may be as simple as bearing with a difficult co-worker or cranky child, but others (the death of a spouse, mental illness, addiction) may demand everything of us. In all that we encounter, we can hold on to Jesus’ promise, “I will not leave you orphans.” We know that we have an advocate who remains with us and an attentive parent who holds us close as we embrace a new reality. We now are the ones who must proclaim the Christ to a world desperately in need of mercy and love.

May we always be ready to give an explanation for our hope.