By David Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of John 16:1-15
1 “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
In today’s lesson, Jesus gives to his disciples a number of predictions. The first is about coming persecutions. He brackets this prediction with the words, “I have said all these things to keep you from falling away,” and so that “when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” They are not to be taken by surprise or believe that he has abandoned them. The second is that he is going away, adding that “it is to [their] advantage” that he goes. Third, he promises that he will send “the Advocate” or “the Helper.” Jesus says that this Helper will “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
We know about the Holy Spirit now, but what could the disciples have been thinking when they heard this? Surely the promises of coming persecution and Jesus’ departure would have been super alarming, and the promise of a “Helper” who will come is amazingly hopeful but, to be honest, provides nothing very solid that can be grasped.
The gospel accounts of Jesus and the disciples show them to be pretty darn committed to him but also pretty dense much of the time. Many times Jesus had told them, “You don’t get it now but you will later.” Today’s episode is one of the most significant of these times. Jesus’ patience is comforting: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The coming Spirit of truth will guide them. In all these words, Jesus is saying to his disciples, “Trust me.” But he is also saying, “I trust you.” The disciples’ repeated denseness didn’t undercut their commitment to him. Jesus is promising today that the denseness will be overcome. This often very dense writer finds this comforting, and is most confident that he is not alone.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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