Keeping the Word: Paraclete

farewell-discoursePerhaps it best not to translate the Greek word paraclete because there are too many possibilities. While the literal meaning of the related verb (parakaleo) means “to call to one’s side,” usually asking the other for help, the noun took on a legal meaning as “helper in court”. Thus we have translations like “counselor,” “advocate,” or “one who speaks for another” as well as the too general translation of “helper”.

This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1John 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in John’s Farewell Discourse (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

If the Paraclete is a “helper in court,” whose helper is it? Clearly the Paraclete has a role as helper to the disciples (and, now, our helper); but there are also indications that it is Jesus’ helper. The Paraclete comes to speak to us for Jesus. In 14:26, it will teach us everything and remind us of all that Jesus has said to us. In 15:26, it will testify on Jesus’ behalf. The Paraclete comes to speak to us on behalf of Jesus.

In our text, the Paraclete will teach us “everything” and remind us of “all” that Jesus has said to us. (In 16:8; its topics are more specific: the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment.) It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Paraclete “helps” us to hear Jesus’ word, which, as noted above, brings the continuing presence of Jesus and his Father to us. The Paraclete reveals Jesus to us, but those without the help of the Paraclete will not properly hear or remember the word of Jesus’ presence.

Still there is something puzzling in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. I am going away and I will come back to you.” Going away and coming back? What kind of sense does that make?

  • Start with the pre-Jesus world. God the Father had been with the people for all ages. The First Testament tells about this over and over. Throughout these ages, God the Father remained unknowable in very important ways. Moses is not allowed to look directly. God says, “I will set you in the hollow of the rock and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back [really it says “so that you may look upon my hindermost quarters”]; but my face is not to be seen. To see God directly would destroy a human being.” (Exodus 33:18-23).
  • To close this gap, God decided to show us everything about himself in a way we can understand. He spoke out his very self and he used a Word that left nothing unsaid. Humanity is the language he used, and Jesus was the Word spoken in that language. Now God can be known because we can know Jesus.
  • Jesus dies, resurrects and ascends to the Father from whom he came. Are we abandoned? No. Just like the Father did, Jesus speaks out his own very self in another Word that leaves nothing of himself unsaid. That Word is the Holy Spirit.

This Spirit is the full reality of the divine/human being called Jesus, and is already the very interior Spirit of God. We are to be closer to Jesus and to the Father than the apostles were!

If you and I say yes to this Spirit, we will know Jesus just as sheep know the voice of their shepherd. In knowing Jesus we will know the Father. We will find him in the Mass, in the Great Eucharistic Sacrament, in prayer, in the people around us. We will be side by side with each other, in the closest possible presence of the God of love.


Notes

14:25 teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you: The Holy Spirit recalls what Jesus has said, taking it deeper and farther into the memory and consciousness of the disciples (cf.  John 2:2, 12:16)

14:26 Advocate: The English word “paraclete” simply transliterates the Greek word that basically means “advocate. This word has legal connotation. Literally it means “one who stands by the side of a defendant.” The 1956 Jerusalem Bible translates paraclete as “advocate,” but the 1985 Jerusalem Bible uses “paraclete!” The 1970 New American Bible translation used “paraclete” but the 1986 revision replaced it with “advocate!” Other translations prefer the word “counselor” (New International Version) or “comforter” (King James Version). What does the evangelist himself indicate the meaning might be? The “paraclete” performs at least three functions or activities. (1) It is the continued presence of Jesus on earth after Jesus’ departure to heaven (14:12, 16). (2) It is a truth-telling spirit (14:17; 16:13) that testifies on behalf of Jesus and in defense of him. It affirms that Jesus was not a shameful failure but rather the beloved of God, a faithful and dutiful Son. (3) It reminds them of things that Jesus said (14:26) and reveals things Jesus was unable to convey (16:12-14).  On another note, this is the only place is the NT where the expression “Holy Spirit” is found

14:27 Peace: the traditional Hebrew salutation salom wishing an absence of war, conflict or tension; but Jesus’ “Shalom” is a gift of salvation, connoting the bounty of messianic blessing (cf.  Isa 9:6-7; 52:7; 57:19; Hag 2:9; Acts 10:36; Rom 14:17)

let your hearts not be troubled: This is an exact repetition of words from Jesus in v.1 and v.27

14:28 if you loved me: Brown (654) sees this seeming conditional not as an implied “you do not love me” but rather their love – at this moment – is not as it ought to be. Their love is possessive rather than something they freely give.

the Father is greater than I: This passage was one of the central arguments of Arius in claiming a subordination of Jesus to God – others used it to argue against the divinity of Jesus. Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose and Augustine explained that as a man the Incarnate Son was less than the Father. But it must be remembered that John is not constructing a Christology or even a theology. He is likely speaking about “glorification.” Jesus is departing, signifying that his work is nearly complete. Now he will be glorified with the glory  that he has with the Father before the world existed. This should be the cause of the disciples’ rejoicing – because then Jesus will glorify his disciples with eternal life (17:2)


Sources

  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29 in Anchor Bible series, ed. William Albright and David Noel Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966)
  • Neal M. Flanagan, O.S.M., John in The Collegeville Bible Commentary eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989)
  • Francis Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina series ed. Daniel Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998)
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996)
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 4, General Editor: Leon Morris (Downers Grove, IL :InterVarsity Press, 2003)
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources at www.crossmarks.com/brian/
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970
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