A ‘Farewell’ Address

The readings for Sunday, May 1, 2016, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle C, are
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; and John 14:23-29.


The context of this Sunday’s Gospel reading is the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel. The theme is Jesus’ departure from his disciples. In the context of the Last Supper discourse, Jesus’ departure refers to his crucifixion, death and burial. When this Gospel reading is placed in the liturgical calendar between Easter (the resurrection of Jesus) and his ascension, the departure of Jesus no longer refers to his death but to his ascension. Just before the action of this Gospel reading begins, “Judas (not Judas Iscariot but the apostle Jude) said to him, ‘How is it that you will manifest yourself to us but not to the world?’” Jesus’ answer seems evasive, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Jude asked Jesus about the method of revealing himself to the disciples. The answer — internally, in the depths of the disciple, in the heart, (a word often used symbolically as the seat of human emotions).

This “dwelling” or living in the disciple is known interiorly by the one who is indwelled. But when this indwelling takes place, it is not Jesus alone who indwells, “My Father will love him and We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” The Greek word John uses, which is here translated as “dwelling,” has a sense of living in permanently. The English noun “condominium” may be the best translation, since the structure of the word should mean “dwelling or living together.” When John writes that the Father will love the one who keeps the word of Jesus, the keeping or doing of the word or command of Jesus begets in the doer the image of the Son. Earlier at the Last Supper Jesus said, “Who has seen me has seen the Father.” By extension one could say, “Who has seen a Christian has seen the Son.” That at least would be the ideal.

What is this “word” which Jesus asks his disciples and every Christian to “keep,” to do? In the Old Testament the Ten Commandments are also called “the Ten Words.” In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard Jesus say to his disciples at the Last Supper, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This is the “word” to which Jesus now refers. In fact, this one “word” is said to summarize the Ten Words (Commandments). Paul bears witness to this in Romans 13:10, “Love is the fulfilling of the Torah (the Laws of God revealed through Moses). The Ten Words summarize the Torah. So important are the Ten Words (the Ten Commandments) that the Torah gives them twice with minor variations between them.

But where is the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit’s function in this condominium-dwelling of Father and Son? John takes this matter up next, “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of what I have told you.” The Holy Spirit does not live “out there somewhere,” but like Father and Son, in the hearts of Christians, in the condominium shared with the individual Christian. Greek Fathers of the Church used a technical term to describe the mutual relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perichoresis — singing, dancing, communing mutually within the Trinity. The word may be extended to the indwelling of Father, Son, and Spirit in the individual Christian. What joy a Christian should have to live in a life of celebration, an ongoing party in one’s own interior condominium. The Greek word Parakletos means an advocate, a defender, a lawyer for the defense. This lawyer’s office is not “downtown” somewhere but in the heart of those who share their condominium with the Holy Trinity. No appointment needed! No paperwork!

The next subject in the Last Supper discourse is peace (Shalom), “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” The most likely word used for “peace” by Jesus is the Hebrew Shalom. Recall how Jesus, after the resurrection, appeared to his frightened disciples where they were hiding behind doors securely locked and bolted, and said, “Shalom alachem!” He said this greeting twice and again in his second visit to them. They were deeply in need of his Shalom. It is not just a greeting, but coming from Jesus it is security not given by locked doors but by the power of the risen Lord. Therefore John adds to Jesus’ Shalom, “not as the world gives do I give it to you.” It is not transitory, not the absence of war or persecution, not the end of tension, not a mere feeling of well-being, although such may follow from the peace which Jesus gives. It is assurance of peace of heart, of conscience, the hope of eternal life promised by Jesus, “I shall give them eternal life. They shall never perish, and no one will grab them out of my hand.”