John’s Gospel took its final form toward the end of the first century. Its final editing took place within a community in which most of the members had never known Jesus on earth. Members of this community were still young when they witnessed the power of the Roman Empire destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Children would have heard from their parents about the time of the Temple, of dominion over their country, and of the Roman–Jewish War that finally destroyed Jerusalem. They lived under emperors who believed themselves to be divine; but those who did remember Jesus spoke of another way — The Way.
The new generation of disciples, those who did not have a living memory of Jesus, might have asked, “Wouldn’t it have been nice to know Jesus? Wouldn’t it have been reassuring to hear His words from His own mouth? Wouldn’t perseverance be easier if we could just see Jesus?”
We live in a culture in which many people’s values are based on their pleasure and not on a higher set of values. We live in a culture in which Internet pornography is rapidly becoming the number one addiction, pushing out alcohol and drugs.
Wouldn’t it be nice to know Jesus as did the first disciples? Wouldn’t it be reassuring to hear His words from His own mouth? Wouldn’t perseverance be easier if we could just see Jesus?
The solemnities of the Ascension and Pentecost are upon us, and our readings today turn our minds to these events in our salvation history. John’s Gospel wants us to know that we can know Jesus in our lives. In our Gospel from John today we revisit Jesus’ promise to send another “Paraclete” to be with us always, translated for us today as “another Advocate.”
The term “paraclete” has several uses, but primarily it is a term from the law courts of the day. A paraclete — also translated as advocate or intercessor — was the counsel for the defense, an individual who assisted the defense by offering evidence or testimony. In the New Testament there are two uses of the term. In 1 John, Jesus himself is given this term because he represents us and intercedes for us in the heavenly court. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that He will send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will defend us in the world. Because of the presence of the Spirit, we will always feel Christ among us.
We often hear the term “widows and orphans,” the Gospels’ way of denoting the most defenseless in society, the true nobodies. People possessed status through their connection to their family. The widows and orphans were defenseless because they had no family. Jesus promised that He would not leave us orphans, would not leave us without a family. This is why at the end of John’s Gospel, as Jesus was dying on the cross, Jesus gave Mary His mother to the Beloved Disciple and the Beloved Disciple to His mother. On one level He made sure that the two would not literally be a “widow and orphan.” On a much deeper level, in so doing Jesus created the Church, the family of God. In being part of this family, we can never be orphans.
From this mutual bonding comes what Pope Francis describes as the “joy of the Gospel.” Jesus would physically leave the disciples, but, on the other hand, He would never be gone. “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
There is only one criterion for the coming of the Advocate: that we love Jesus and that our love be demonstrated by keeping His commands.
Those who first knew Jesus could not contain their joy or their love. The Acts tells us of the bravery of the early Christians, of feats that could only be the result of God’s Advocate standing with them. Philip, one of the seven new ministers we read of last week, dared to take word of the Christ to Samaria, to a people despised by the people of Jerusalem. Another amazing thing happened: Peter and John went north to take the gift of the Holy Spirit to truly heal the once-bitter division in the name of Christianity.
If we love Jesus — which means being obedient to His word — we will acquire the courage Christians must have to live in our secular culture. Moreover, if we love as we are asked, we will see Jesus!
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.