Sunday 19th May 2013 – Pentecost Sunday

Pentecost. Year C Lectio divina on Jn 14,15-16.23b-26

This text is part of a long discourse but it is important to remember its immediate context. The traitor has been identified by Jesus and has left the supper room (Jn.13,13,30). This long “last testament” of Jesus is addressed to his intimate and faithful friends. Jesus entrusts them with a task. His time with them is drawing short. Obedience is necessary and they must demonstrate their love. Their love will be shown, not to him, but to one another. During the time of his absence, they will show their love by obeying. Obedience is requested of all who are sent by Jesus. It is the inescapable proof of the love that unites them. To obey is to love him. The Triune God is the reward of this obedience. Pentecost is much more than the time of the absence of Jesus. It is the time to do his will. It is the time to allow God to dwell in those who show their love by obedience.

At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, 23 “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26 But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it

These two short passages, put together to form one Gospel reading, have a thematic unity which revolves around three ideas: attention to the word or command; the love of Christ and of the Father; the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ departure brings about new forms of presence. He is going away, but not completely. His command remains and he sends his Spirit. He speaks of his absence in a rather abrupt manner (Jn 14,1-14), but he promises new forms of presence – that of the Counsellor or Paraclete (Jn. 14,15-17,25-26), his own presence (Jn. 14,18-21), and that of the Father and Son together (Jn. 14,22-24).

The test of our love for the absent Lord is obedience to his will, not a feeling of nostalgia at his departure. Jesus is no longer with them, but he leaves them his love. The community of disciples without Jesus is the place where his command is to be carried out: if you love me you will keep my commandments (Jn. 14,15). To love is to desire and adhere to his command, to obey his will (Dt 7,9). Here love and acceptance are given not to God but to Jesus. Before Jesus leaves them, his love is real. Obedience is to be the response of those who no longer have him present among them. However, he does not yet explain his commandment to the apostles. Later (Jn.14,15.21.24), he will make it clear that loving him means keeping his words, everything that he has revealed, not only, or even principally, the ethical requirement of love.

Jesus insists on obedient love, which is not limited to a particular era (Jn. 14,23 If a man loves me … Jn. 14,24, He who does not love me …). He will return along with the Father to anyone who loves him by obeying his words. This revelation is possible wherever he finds obedience. Anyone who does not receive this revelation is marked as being disobedient. Faith must be characterized by action and observance. It is not just a purely subjective sentiment. Only the one who obeys will enjoy the presence of the Father and the Son (Jn. 14,23). Obedience to Christ is not only to him, but also to the Father, because his words are not his own, but the Father’s who sent him (Jn. 14,24).

Before he finishes, Jesus repeats his promise: he will send the Counsellor. Sent by the Father, and now called the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor will have as his mission to keep alive in the community the teaching and the memory of Jesus (Jn. 14,26). The community will be the school of God (Is. 54,13; Jn. 31,3-34) and the place where Jesus is remembered. The Counsellor has the same origin, and the same task – to teach the words of the Son which are the Father’s words (Jn. 14,10.24): the same revelation, but a new Teacher.

II MEDITATION: apply what the text says to life

Jesus leaves his disciples, but he does not leave them disconsolate. He tells them that “another” defender will come. But he will not come now to defend the Son who is to give his life for them. Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit who will continue his work, teaching them and reminding them of what he has taught. In this way we receive from Jesus himself the revelation in advance of the mystery of Pentecost, of its profound meaning. The physical disappearance of Jesus will not leave his disciples unemployed. They will have to obey his will. Nor will they be abandoned, because they will receive another Counsellor or Paraclete.

Basically Jesus wants to ensure that his disciples who remain alone will not feel abandoned and will not be idle. If they love me today, they will fulfil my commandment in the future. Proclaiming his word and making it true is the way to love him when he is absent.

The first task of the believer, and of the whole Church living in the age of the Spirit, is obedience. We will not have Jesus alongside us, but in his absence we will do his will.

We know what we have to do – obey his command. And we know why we have to do it – out of love. The obedience that Jesus asks of us is the concrete expression of the love he hopes for from us. He does not want a sentimental love, however sincere it might be, but a love expressed in deeds and in truth. An obedience that is born of love for our absent Lord, makes his absence bearable. The more meticulous we are in following him, the less painful the effort will be.

Jesus made this very clear in what he said. The first condition (if you love me, you will keep my commandments) is reinforced by repetition (If a man loves me, he will keep my word … he who does not love me does not keep my words).

The time of Pentecost is not a time that we just put up with. It is a time that calls for obedience, an obedience that is nourished in love of the one we must obey. This means that we must practise loving him whom we cannot see, because he has gone from us. We no longer own him because he is now absent. We show our love by wanting what he wants and by doing his will. Loving, while not enjoying the presence of the one we love, allows us to do his will. Jesus himself acknowledges that this obedient love will not be easy for us: if you love me …

We have all we need to love him today and to listen to him and obey him in the future. The best way to prepare for when he is gone, is to love him while we have him near at hand. Pentecost is the time to prove the love we feel, and the guarantee of its authenticity is our obedience.

The reward for the obedience of the disciple who loves, is the Father of the one he loves. The disciple who lives in obedience to the Lord, will have him as intercessor with the Father. And the Father will grant him the permanent presence of the Spirit, who is the personal love of the Father, and the dwelling place of God.

Rarely has there been such a promise as that made to the one who loves and obeys the Spirit. The Father and the Son will be companions of the obedient disciple. God will dwell in all those who live in obedience to the teaching of Jesus. St Augustine expresses this truth very beautifully: “The Father, the Son and the Spirit come to us, when we go to them. They come with their help, when we obey them. They come to enlighten us, when we contemplate them. They come to receive us, when we welcome them. We see them not externally but internally. Their dwelling in us is not temporary but eternal.”

It follows then that the time of Pentecost is not a time of absence, but of a new and threefold presence. It is not a time for nostalgia, but a time of welcome. Another Defender, a Father who loves us, and the Son, will fill the life of the believer who obeys. God dwelling in the midst of the people who obey him is a classical biblical motif (Exod.25,8;29,45; Lev.36,11; Ps.120,11; 123,3-14; Exod.37,26-27; Zech.2,14). Here Jesus promises much more than what was granted to Israel. The Christian believer becomes the dwelling-place of the Trinity, provided he loves Jesus and lives only to obey him. Pentecost is a time of obedience, but it is also a time to live in the joy of the Trinity. God becomes the guest of whoever does the will of the Saviour.

To give effect to his promise, Jesus assures us that what he has left us are not just his own words, but words that come from the Father who sent him. The authority of God is behind the personal promise of Jesus. His promises are nothing other than the revelation of God who speaks through his Son.

Being given the Spirit as another Defender, and receiving the love of the Father and the indwelling of God, are not mere illusions of one who believes. They are the reward of one who obeys. Could we think of a better reward for an obedience that is, after all, our duty?

Like Jesus, the Spirit comes from the Father. The Spirit will be sent in Jesus’ name and will be his representative. He will help the disciples to understand and keep the memory of Jesus alive in the world. The message to be understood and remembered is always what Jesus said, the message of his Gospel. The work of the Spirit is not just a reconstruction of what was said, nor simply a repetition of what Jesus taught, but a re-presentation, through memory, and an effective instrument for the understanding of the love of Jesus. The community of those to whom the Spirit is given will have the task of teaching and remembering the absent Lord, Jesus of Nazareth, and in this way making his presence active and effective in the world.

Pentecost is not a time to live in ignorance or forgetfulness of Jesus, or a time to suffer in loneliness. Precisely because Jesus has left us, we must not forget him or his teaching. In his place we have another Defender, the Spirit that Jesus promised the Father would send us. The Church is condemned to loneliness, only if it does not remember Jesus, or does not bring his teaching to the world.

If we forget Christ today, just because he is not present or because the world has rejected him, then we lose his Spirit. We cannot say we have the Spirit of Jesus if, on Pentecost day, we do not resolve to remember him and to keep live his teaching.