An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Sixth Sunday of Easter A, John 14:15-21, May 29, 2011
When the late Abp Antonio Franco, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines, visited the Diocese of Borongan, the people were too happy and enthusiastic to meet him. Indeed, all the barangays and towns that dot the around 200-kilometer stretch on Eastern Samar welcomed him with arches, streamers, and standing parade, with men and women, old and young alike, waving their improvised papal flags as the Nuncio’s convoy passed by. When he visited the northern town of Dolores, for instance, the long queue of people wishing him well was tremendous. One, of course, wonders why such a honor is accorded to him. But the people of God in Eastern Samar had one answer—they know the Nuncio is the representative of the Pope. Most of them have not seen the Pope in person, but the Nuncio was his representative. As the priest who welcomed him at the Borongan Cathedral said, “Our people are eager and happy to see you. We know that you come here not only as an Ambassador of the Vatican State to the Philippines, but also as the representative of the Vicar of Christ… But now, we are even more joyful, because we are able to see you who represent him. Through you, we wish to reiterate our expression of affection and loyalty to him.”
The central message of Easter is that Jesus is alive! But if he cannot be found among the dead, where is he? Where do we encounter him? In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the Paraclete. It may be noted that John uses the term another Paraclete—to indicate that Jesus is the first Paraclete. Literally, the word means “called-to-one’s-side” or helper, and has reference to the Holy Spirit that the Father sent as a response to the prayer of his Son. As Paraclete, Jesus revealed the Truth about God the Father to his disciples until his death; but after his Ascension, the Spirit now reveals the Truth about Jesus. Thus, as Paraclete, the Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus. This is what is meant when Jesus says that “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete—to be with you always: the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17a). As Helper, the Spirit will be the source of Truth; and will act as Paraclete, as the disciples suffer hostility from the world. For John, the coming of the Paraclete is the return of Jesus to the community of disciples. That is why Jesus says that, even with his departure, he will not leave them orphaned, because through the Holy Spirit, he will continue to abide with his community. In fact, they will share his life, even as Jesus shares the life of his Father. Thus, the Holy Spirit appears to be the spiritual presence of Jesus in the community. In other words, if we ask the question, where do we meet Jesus? John’s answer is: we encounter him in the Holy Spirit, who is present in the community.
Because Jesus abides in the Church through the Holy Spirit, we are therefore given a very rich understanding of what being Church means. First of all, since, as the First Reading (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17) tells us, the Church in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to confer the Spirit on the developing Christian community to incorporate them fully into the fellowship, this implies that local churches cannot be isolated from Rome, even as the expanding church in Judea and Samaria cannot severe itself from the Church in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit that is at work in the mother Church in Jerusalem is shared in the community at Samaria and Judaea. The spiritual presence of Jesus is thus shared and expanded. Until his death, Jesus was physically present only in the community of disciples, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit, he becomes present in all the communities that profess his name, and are at the same time linked to the mother Church in Jerusalem. How do we say this in our time? Perhaps this means that all communities must form a unity with the mother Church in Rome.
Secondly, because the Holy Spirit dwells in the Church, the community is in communion with the Risen Lord. The Risen Lord lives in the Church because the Holy Spirit is there. But quite apart from being present, the community shares the life of the Risen Lord, who shares the life of the Father. For this reason, the Church experiences the continuing action of God among men. The Father is revealed by Jesus and his saving-presence is shared through the Holy Spirit. That is why the Church is an icon of the Trinity: the saving work of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is shared in the Christian community. In other words, being Church is an experience of Trinitarian life.
And finally, this Trinitarian life is lived in love. “He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal himself to him” (John 14:21). The fact that the Spirit lives in the Church—this signifies that the Church is a charismatic Church. There never was a time that the Church was not charismatic, or it is not a Church at all. But this should not be taken to mean that ecstatic experience is always a necessary element of being Church. There was and there will be ecstatic experience; miracles of healing and driving of spirits might be present, but what being charismatic necessarily implies is the observance of the commandment of love, which is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In fact, in today’s Gospel, the presence of the Father is linked with the commandment of love: “If you love me and obey the commands I give you, I will ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you always: the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:15-16).
In contemporary theological reflection, the Church is viewed as a Church of Communion, and there is no doubt that today’s Gospel provides a solid basis for such a theology. In the Church, the members are in communion with the Trinitarian God and with one another. In practice, this implies that the love of God dwells in the community and is shared among the members. On the other hand, the members are assured of the presence of the Trinity by their observance of the love-commandment. Their love for one another is a sign that the Trinity dwells in the Church. Which means that it is not enough to view the Church simply as an institution. Of course, to see the Church as a structured visible society has it own merits, but to look at the Church as a Communion is to emphasize the work of grace that unites all members in Christ and draws them into the communion with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.