The Holy Spirit as Enabler

The readings for Sunday, May 21, 2017, Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A, are
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; and John 14:15-21.

Selections from the Last Supper Discourse of Jesus with its theme of departure continues on this Sunday, but with a difference. Last Sunday the emphasis was on faith in Jesus, and faith in God as the same faith.

This Sunday the emphasis is on love  — love of Jesus by his disciples. This Gospel selection begins and ends with a statement about love. The Johannine Jesus begins, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” These words continue a theme begun in the previous chapter, in 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, so that you love one another.” To rephrase: Jesus’ example of loving his disciples has the purpose of causing them to love one another. Since all the commandments are summed up in that one commandment to love one another, the opening sentence of today’s Gospel means this: If you really do love me, then you will love one another.”

The integrity of one’s Christianity is involved here, as the First Letter of John indicates, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” 1 John 4:20. The objection is often made, “I can’t possibly love my brother, or my neighbor, etc.” It may not be as difficult as one might think. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus expresses a form of the ancient Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that people do to you, so do to them,” Matthew 7:12. Nothing new there, since the Old Testament Book of Tobit already said the same, “Do to no one what you would not want done to you.” What is new, however, is the value Jesus gives to the Golden Rule, when he adds these words to it, “This is the Torah and the Prophets!” In other words, the Golden Rule sums up and expresses all the commandments of the Old Testament.

In Romans 13:9-10, St. Paul writes that “…the commandments are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Torah.” Sounds something like the Golden Rule from the Sermon on the Mountain. We may conclude that those who live by the Golden Rule, whether they know it or not, already live the commandment of Jesus, to “love one another as I have loved you.” The Golden Rule is at least the first step. Jesus went beyond this first step in giving his life for others. So can we, even if no physical crucifixion and death is involved. It is called “living for others.”  The next step in today’s Gospel reading is the assurance that help from above is available to live Jesus’ commandment.

John continues: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Paraclete) to be with you, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you and will be in you.” The sentence begins with the conjunction “and.” This connects it with the previous sentence, the command of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. ” The Advocate is the Holy Spirit. In the matter of doing Jesus’ commandment of love, the Holy Spirit is the Enabler. Paul writes in Romans 8:26-27, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness …, interceding for us with sighs too deep for words to express.”

A somewhat confusing statement: “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.” In some way Jesus remains present to his followers, even after the withdrawal of his biological, physical, bodily presence. Because he lives, they will live can mean that his post-resurrectional  life is the basis of Christian life. No longer is his physical presence a hindrance to living in those who love him. An illustration, though a limping one, might be the Vine and Branches parable. Also 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The theme of indwelling, said above of the Holy Spirit, is now extended to Father and Son and disciples, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.” The Gospel reading closes with a reference to its beginning — the connection between doing Jesus’ commandments and love of him. Those who do so will reap their reward. They “will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”