The promised Paraclete

This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Easter in lectionary Year C.  In yesterday’s post we considered the first of two promises: Jesus (and the Father) come through the Word. Today, let’s consider the second response to the question posed in v.21: through the Paraclete

Perhaps it best not to translate the Greek word paraclete because there are too many possibilities. While the literal meaning of the related verb (parakaleo) means “to call to one’s side,” usually asking the other for help, the noun took on a legal meaning as “helper in court”. Thus we have translations like “counselor,” “advocate,” or “one who speaks for another” as well as the too general translation of “helper”.

This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in John’s Farewell Discourse (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

If the Paraclete is a “helper in court,” whose helper is it? Clearly the Paraclete has a role as helper to the disciples (and, now, our helper); but there are also indications that it is Jesus’ helper. The Paraclete comes to speak to us for Jesus. In 14:26, it will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us. In 15:26, it will testify on Jesus’ behalf. The Paraclete comes to speak to us on behalf of Jesus.

In our text, the Paraclete will teach us “everything” and remind us of “all” that Jesus has said to us. (In 16:8; its topics are more specific: the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.) It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Paraclete “helps” us to hear Jesus’ word, which, as noted above, brings the continuing presence of Jesus and his Father to us. The Paraclete reveals Jesus to us, but those without the help of the Paraclete will not properly hear or remember the word of Jesus’ presence.

Still there is something puzzling in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. I am going away and I will come back to you.” Going away and coming back? What kind of sense does that make?

  1. Start with the pre-Jesus world. God the Father had been with the people for all ages. The Hebrew Scriptures tell about this over and over. Throughout these ages, God the Father remained unknowable in very important ways. Moses is not allowed to look directly. God says, “I will set you in the hollow of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back [really it says “so that you may look upon my hindermost quarters”]; but my face is not to be seen. To see God directly would destroy a human being.” (Exodus 33:18-23).
  2. To close this gap, God decided to show us everything about himself in a way we can understand. He spoke out his very self and he used a Word that left nothing unsaid. Humanity is the language he used, and Jesus was the Word spoken in that language. Now God can be known because we can know Jesus.
  3. Jesus dies, resurrects and ascends to the Father from whom he came. Are we abandoned? No. Just as the Father did, Jesus speaks out his own very self in another Word that leaves nothing of himself unsaid. That Word is the Holy Spirit.

This Spirit is the full reality of the divine/human being called Jesus, and is already the very interior Spirit of God. We are to be closer to Jesus and to the Father than the apostles were.

If you and I say yes to this Spirit, we will know Jesus just as sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus we will know the Father. We will find him in the Mass, in the Great Eucharistic Sacrament, in prayer, in the people around us. We will be side by side with each other, in the closest possible presence of the God of love.

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