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This series is about context. Most of us have either read these words in the bible or have had them taught to us by our pastors, priests and bible teachers. The challenge when looking at the text from over 2000 years after its writing, is that we are not able to interpret it within the context of the culture, and the moment it was said. Not to mention the first translational challenge of recapturing the words decades later and scribing them in another language.
To be fair, 2000 years of church history has preserved a fair amount of the message, but when that percolates through each tribal interpretation and tradition, the net result is a number of ways in which this passage is offered. Perhaps that is ultimately a good thing, but for this study, I am endeavoring to strip all that off and lay bare the essential components for our modern ears. I do this in hope of a faith emerging within us which will reconnect our modern lives to this amazing transcendent promise and experience.
I’ll begin today by reading the passage at hand. Do your best to hear it as if you were a disciple who just heard from Jesus that he was going to be killed and that you likely assumed that his death was the end of his mission and work.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15-21)
While it is tempting to default into everything we have been taught from the book of Acts or have experienced about the Holy Spirit, let’s consider specifically what this passage has to say about it, not what other New Testament texts (which would not have existed) have to say. I have compiled here several observations:
- “If you love me, you will keep my commands”: Jesus’ public ministry is not anti-religion, but it was clearly a deconstruction of religion by way of separating the ritual, practice, and compliance from the deeper, spiritual experience of Divine union. In Jesus’ Kingdom, people are free to uphold their religion if they so desire, or they are free to have no religion, but his emphasis is that relating to God is not through fear, power or threat, but more like a marriage where love and desire are the drivers for fidelity to the teachings. “Keeping the commands” is not perfect obedience, it is the right “heart” or “inner self” that seeks to follow after and learn from this nuanced ways of living and relating. This is known as Christ following, not religious compliance, and such a “heart” or disposition of faith is the pre-condition for being granted this promise. “Believe in God, believe also in me” (14:1)
- “I will ask the Father and he will send you another Helper”: This series has exposed the nuanced way in which Jesus and God (and now others) are inter-related. It’s not accurate to say they are exactly co-extensive, nor can we say they are mutually exclusive. Jesus language continually reveals he is not God, but he is not “other than God” either. To access God in any form is done through the cosmic work of Christ. When we access the “Father” and we are told that Jesus (who is the Christ or anointed one of God) is “in” or “one with” the Father and yet Jesus is going to ask the Father to send a “helper” to his disciples. This “nesting doll of divine union” is really important, because the disciples are now included into this same type of dynamic relationship. It is fair to say, that through this promise, all Christ followers are neither God, but also there is a sense where we (in Divine union) are not other than God as well. Jesus’ theology is not God as stagnant figure, but God as divine flow or relational dynamism, of which the promise of the Holy Spirit allows all comers to partake.
- “Helper”: The Greek word parákleton (on consoling, encouraging or mediating on behalf). For many traditions, this word is often emphasized as the mediator or “defense attorney” and this aspect fits well in the modern narrative of filthy sinners who stands before a judging God to face condemnation. The theological framework of substitutionary atonement could not have existed for the disciples yet. That narrative does not exist here. In fact, in most cultures, lawyers are paid liars and so this type of mediator is never used. Most scholars in following the word studies, see this as “the one who kneels next to” a person who is down. This not only fits contextually, but it ties directly back to the ethos of Jesus’ mission and kingdom, whereby we all fail to follow his commandments, and our love grows as we discover that the Father is not an exacting Judge with a stink-eye, but a loving, encouraging spiritual parent.
- “The spirit of Truth”: This Spirit or “Pneūma tés áletheias” is the breath, or wind, or essence of Truth, capital T “Truth”. If you recall, the Kingdom which Jesus is revealing comprises both physical and non-physical (spiritual) reality. Total Truth cannot be limited to only the empirical or physical world as we see in the modern Scientific worldview. If so, things like mathematics, logic, idea, and rationality cannot exist. This “Helper” is the one who kneels beside us from this “other” dimension which is not empirically based. When Jesus says “…whom the world cannot receive” he is referring to the kosmos or “world system” which cannot or will not see this other dimension. As a result, those who follow the ethos of the world system (kosmos) do not have a big enough grasp of truth and thus they cannot experience or possess it. While our modern world calls people of faith “illogical” or “irrational”, the irony is that both logic and rationality depend upon a worldview which included “non physical” reality, thus revealing the “kosmos” to be the illogical worldview by definition.
- “I will not leave you as orphans”: Jesus is reassuring his disciples that he is not abandoning them. Since the “world systems” (kosmos) of Religion and State are about to kill Jesus, he is telling his disciples that he will remain with them from within the spiritual or non-physical aspect of reality or (Truth). It will take a different set of eyes to see this, but it will be experienced, or felt, or perceived. This is the aspect the world systems cannot access. The presence of Christ, the flow of Divine Union will now be closer than before and it will “be with you forever.” Once Jesus dies, the “world will see me no more, but you will see me... The promise and gift of the Holy Spirit is that it is a power, a force, and a sustaining way of seeing, that is not possible apart from belief.
- “I am in my Father, you in me, and I in you…”: Here is yet another place where Jesus’ language describes the extension of Divine Union to include the disciples by way of the Holy Spirit. This is not a different kind of union or relationship from what Jesus had with the Father. This is precisely and exactly the same relationship or way of relating, only now, because of this promise and gift, human flesh is now able to enter into this union, while still in the flesh by accessing their spiritual (nonphysical) awareness. We are not the smallest of the “nesting dolls”, Christ is in us, and we are in the Father because we are in Christ through faith.
This passage is not over. There is more to be said and we will visit it next week. However, there is enough here which can open up a new experience for all comers. If we stay in the context which I have endeavored to unpack in this series, we can see something amazing unfolding. We learn that the spiritual dimension, which nearly all human history has perceived and experienced is in effect this “Helper” who is mediating this transcendent, existential experience. Since the cosmic role of the Christ, which has been doing this work from all history, in all people, is now exemplified in Jesus, and then passed on to a diverse people through faith, we can confidently see that humanity is not so much able to have a spiritual capacity as humanity is spiritual capacity within the context of the physical world. Like Sting sang in his song, “We are spirit, in a material world”.
No human has ever existed without a spiritual component, but many believe the “kosmos” (world system) and suppress and deny the Spirits’ existence and thus its Source. Any exploration of our true Spirit, or (true self) is a journey of Christ following regardless of what we call it. Religion at its most helpful level provides a process or framework to understand and potentially access this spiritual side and thus it need not be diminished. However, when we fall in love with the container and not the contents, we lose the point of the whole thing.
If you are able to connect all these dots, you’ll begin to notice that all of these nuances bubble to the surface and quickly begin to answer all our questions about different religions, and the narratives of “going to heaven” or morality or spirituality. Jesus in his final words to his disciples, reaffirms what we already know about the spiritual world and have perceived, if we sit still and are honest with ourselves. God is with us in Spirit and if we will become consciously aware and follow (obey) what this Helper within us is leading us toward, we will no doubt enter a spiritual kingdom which we can share and enjoy with all others, not only now, but for eternity.