Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of John 14:15–21. In this passage, Jesus promises to send us another Paraclete and assures us that He will return to be with us. This was an especially comforting and encouraging message for the disciples who were about to face Jesus’ death on Calvary, and it continues to be an encouraging message for us today.
Jesus first instructs His disciples on the necessary relationship between love and obedience (faith) when He says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” To believe in Jesus is to accept His word (teaching and instruction) as authentically from the Father. A disciple who loves Jesus will live out that relationship by holding fast to our Lord’s commandments. There is an inherent connection between our love for Jesus and our actions. It is important to remember that the primary commandment Jesus gave is that disciples love one another even as our Lord has loved us (13:15, 34–35, 14:15a). Jesus demonstrated His love both in the washing of the disciples’ feet and in the laying down of His life on the cross. It’s easy to love the Lord when we define “love” to mean nothing more than an interior private emotion focused only on a spiritual relationship. It can be difficult, however, to love the Lord when it means loving Him in those around us and laying down our lives for them even as Jesus laid down His life for us. The challenge for us in this passage is to move beyond a spirituality that is focused on a cherished memory of the past or one that is based only on a interior emotions. Instead, we are to become living witnesses of God’s love for others so that the sacrificial love of Christ dwells in us and through us. By moving outside a merely private personal relationship with Jesus and living what He taught and demonstrated, we will find ourselves immersed in His love and enjoying even deeper relationship with Him in the present. It’s easy to love those whom we like or those who are close to us, but it can be difficult to love those who need it most.
For whom do you find it difficult to love as Jesus loved?
Jesus clarified that authentic Christian love is necessarily manifested in lived obedience to His commands. This clarification was given to keep us from reducing love to a merely emotional experience. When have you been called to do something difficult or challenging because of your love of God?
When has someone’s act of love for you reflected the self-giving love of Jesus shown to us on Calvary?
What can a faith community do to help people better understand how to live out their love for Jesus in the practical actions of their daily lives?
Next, Jesus tells the disciples that He will send another Paraclete for them. The word “Paraclete” is a strange term in English. It originally referred to a legal assistant who functioned in the capacity of a lawyer and who “called out” on another person’s behalf (the term “Paraclete” comes from the Greek words para kaleo, meaning to speak on another’s behalf). Over the course of time, the term took on broader meanings including “Intercessor” (one who prays for another), “comforter”, “consoler”, “guide”, and “teacher of truth”. Each of these terms expresses the very actions that Jesus performed for His disciples during His life and ministry. Thus, Jesus himself was the first Paraclete, and now He promises to send another Paraclete to continue His ministry to the Church when our Lord goes to the Father. That Paraclete is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit is not often well understood in Western Christianity, and as a result of that lack of awareness we can fail to appreciate the importance of passages such as this one. It is the Holy Spirit that animates the life of the Church, that inspires disciples, that draws us into the life of God to be in communion with Jesus and the Father, that unites us in the bond of love, that continues to reveal the truth of Jesus in every time and place. The Holy Spirit teaches us what it means to be the presence of Christ in different situations — makes us the mystical Body of Christ on the earth, sanctifies us, and so forth. That is quite a list! In the gospel of John, we see how Jesus gave us the gift of the Spirit, both from the cross when He handed over His Spirit (Jn 19:30b) and in the upper room where the disciples were gathered and He breathed on them saying, “Receive the holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).
If you were asked to tell someone about the Holy Spirit, what would you say?
The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church is varied and dynamic. Which of the effects of the Holy Spirit listed above have you experienced and how?
Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to the Church at two moments (the crucifixion and the resurrection) and for two purposes (the gift of the Spirit from the cross was to form and guide the pastoral life of the Church caring for its members, while the gift of the Spirit from the resurrected Lord is to animate and empower the Church for its mission of evangelization). Which of these works of the Holy Spirit is most needed in the Church today?
How is the Holy Spirit prompting you to become a more active member of the Body of Christ?
What can a faith community do to help people learn more about the Holy Spirit?
Why do you think Jesus wanted to share so many insights with the disciples into the spiritual nature of the Church (for example, the Flock who hears His voice, the Holy Spirit as the sanctifying presence, and so forth)?
Lastly, Jesus assures His disciples of His own continuing presence among them when He says, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18). Whenever Jesus uses the pronoun “you” in this passage, it is always in the plural. Thus, Jesus is telling us that the gift of His presence is first and foremost to the community of the Church rather than to us as individual Christians. This is a very significant teaching. Jesus’ love for the Father was not private. It was public. The believer’s experience of Jesus and witness of love for Jesus is to be experienced in the community of the Church as opposed to a merely private transcendental union. The promise of divine presence, including the gift of the Holy Spirit, is made to a community of believers and not to those who are living their faith apart from that community of faith. This passage, then, teaches us of the necessity of the Church for our relationship with God. The Church is not primarily spiritual because we do spiritual things. Rather, the Church is essentially spiritual because of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of Jesus that draws us into His life with the Father. The Christians of the first century experienced the return of Jesus primarily in the celebration of Baptism and the Eucharist. It is in these experiences of the worshipping community, and the other Sacraments, that we encounter and celebrate a continuing relationship with the Lord who is present to us. The reading for this Sunday teaches us that the absent one, the Lord Jesus, is truly present to those who believe His words, love Him in the fellow Christian, and keep His commandments. Jesus promises that when we live out our high calling as a Church, He will reveal Himself to us and we will experience communion of life with the Holy Trinity.
What are some of the ways today in which we tend to privatize the experience of Jesus and discipleship as opposed to understanding it as a communal gift?
What are the ways in which people can try to exempt themselves from a personal response of faith by erroneously appealing to the communal response (that is, people can become content with just sitting in a pew rather than taking personal responsibility for their growth in discipleship)?
How does this teaching of the spiritual reality of the Church challenge you?
What are some of the other understandings of Church a person can have that differ from that of a primarily spiritual reality?
No one likes to be abandoned (orphaned), and for this reason there are moments when we can sense God’s presence with us in the midst of otherwise lonely experiences. What are some of your experiences of God that have assured you of our Lord’s presence in your life?
What circumstances or situations could cause you to doubt God’s presence?
People can come to church for a lot of different reasons. How should this understanding of Church — as the primary focus for the encounter with the risen Christ — change the way you prepare for and experience Sunday worship?