In our Pentecost Sunday gospel, as noted in yesterday’s post, to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room on that first Easter evening Jesus first words were: “Peace be with you.” His second words were: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” His thirds words were “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What had been promised in many ways in John 13-17, is now fulfilled in the giving of the Spirit. It also marks a turning point in salvation history as a fulfillment of the prophets, not just that the Messiah would come, but that the Messiah would begin the eschaton, the final era when the Kingdom of God would become manifest – and the future become present.
It is the great promise of the prophet Ezekiel that rivers of living waters would flow from the new Temple, restoring the world. John 7:39 makes reference to this when Jesus emerges from the Temple: “Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water* will flow from within him.” But the gospel, at that point notes that Jesus “…said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.“
With his first encounter with the gathered disciples, Jesus breathes upon them – and the living water flow into the world via the Spirit. Jesus’ mission becomes theirs; his work is placed in their hands. And that mission, that work, is to manifest God who is love in their words and deeds. Through them now, enlivened by the Spirit, will the presence of God become known and seen and felt in the world.
Although the text does not use parakletos, there is unanimity among commentators that the Holy Spirit is that Advocate promised in the Farewell Discourse of the Fourth Gospel. The Farewell Discourse (John 13-17) had outlined the role the Advocate/Holy Spirit would play in relation to the disciples to empower them as witnesses. The Holy Spirit will:
- be recognized by the disciples (14:17)
- teach the disciples everything (14:26)
- guide the disciples along the way of all truth (16:13)
- take what belongs to the Jesus and declare it to the disciples (16:14)
- glorify Jesus (16:14)
- bear witness to Jesus in order that the disciples will also bear witness to Jesus (15:26-27)
- remind the disciples of all that Jesus told them (14:26)
Fr. Raymond Brown, the great Johannine scholars, holds these promises in the parakletos describes that aspect of the Holy Spirit which is specifically concerned with witness so that a believer is assured of all the power needed to be witness. Brown makes a case that the full power of the Holy Spirit, the living water, began on the cross, where Jesus, manifesting the nature of God, which is love, delivers over the Spirit (19:30), symbolized immediately afterward by the flow of the sacramental symbols of blood and water. The Spirit is manifest in others ways not connected to the witness of the person/community – e.g. baptismal regeneration, sacramental forgiveness of sins, all the sacraments, and the many gifts of the Spirit that build up the community (1 Cor 12:3-12)
Thus Jesus’ words about sending his disciples as the Father sent him applied immediately to the apostles both with respect to Christian mission and to them in their specific roles/gifts within the church. It is in Baptism that all believers are privileged to share in this Mission in so far as they all are recipients of the Spirit whom he bequeathed to his disciples. With the particular enabling that Spirit provides, each plays a part in continuing the work and witness of Jesus.
And in this way, the living waters continue to flow and revitalize the world.