15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Translation: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another, a One-called-alongside, so that he might be with you into the eternal, the spirit of the truth, whom the world has not been able to receive because it can neither see nor know him. You know him, because he abides alongside you and is in you. I will not leave you orphans. I come to you. A little while and the world will see me no longer, but you see me. Because I live, you will live also. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, I in you. The one having my commandments, and keeping them, that one is loving me, and the one loving me will be loved by my Father. And I will love them, and I will show forth myself to them."
Background and situation: Last week's reading, John 14: 1-14, is the beginning of the farewell discourses in the fourth gospel. This week's reading is the following six verses. Last week, the emphasis was on trust in Jesus. This week, the emphasis is on love for Jesus.
Not surprisingly, the farewell discourses open with appeals to trust and love, both major themes of the fourth gospel. In fact, what is rather surprising, when you think about it, is that love for Jesus is a minor theme in the New Testament, almost non-existent outside of the fourth gospel. In the fourth gospel, however, love for Jesus is a major theme, strongly emphasized.
Love counters fear. The text seems designed to provide comfort for the community in the absence of Jesus, as if to say, "Don't worry. Everything will be all right." You will have help. What's more, "I come to you"--the verb is present tense.
The problem of love in the very early church: I read the fourth gospel as a bit of a polemic against Peter. Whenever Peter and the Beloved Disciple appear in the same scene, it seems that Peter always comes off as secondary. Peter needs to get the Beloved Disciple to ask Jesus a question, for example. The Beloved Disciple can walk right into the palace, but Peter has to stay outside. They both run to the tomb, but the Beloved Disciple gets there first. Then, in chapter 21, Jesus almost seems to chew Peter out for not having enough love.
Is that the fourth gospel's criticism of Peter? Not enough love? One of the major themes of the fourth gospel is love. The word appears 57 times in fourth gospel--the two great commandments are to love God and "love one another." This is the sacred text of the Johannine community, a community distinct from, yet in fellowship with, the Jerusalem church. Do they find a lack of love in the Jerusalem church?
The "yous" in this text begin in the plural, meaning that Jesus' remarks are addressed to the community as a whole. The community "knows" the One-called-alongside "because he abides alongside you and is in you." (Jesus switches to the singular in verse 21. See comment below.) For now, and always, it should be kept in mind that Jesus is primarily relating to the community.
The community is to demonstrate their love for Jesus by keeping his commandments, although he has only really given one actual commandment, which is to "love one another" (13: 34-35). The use of the word "commandments"--plural--invites a comparison with other "commandments," such as those given to Moses. For the fourth gospel, Jesus one commandment--"love one another"--is placed on the level of the Torah itself.
The "paraklete": The word parakletos means "one called alongside." It is generally translated as "advocate" or "comforter." The word is closely related to the Hebrew hacham, which appears in Psalm 23, for example: "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort--hacham--me." As Wes Howard-Brook notes, the word parakletos itself, however, comes originally from the Greek law courts where it meant "advocate."
Jesus promises "another advocate," himself apparently being the first. The "advocate" will be "the spirit of the truth." This is reminiscent of the worship of those who do so "in spirit and in truth" (4: 23-24). The way the fourth gospel uses it, parakletos combines the concepts of comforter, encourager, advocate, defender.
The "advocate" will be "remaining" with them--menei, a key, even ubiquitous, word in the fourth gospel. Everyone--Jesus, the community, the advocate, the Father--seems to abide, dwell, and remain in, with, and under each other. (Think sacramental theology.)
To see and know: Jesus will not leave them bereft, like orphans. They "will see" him, even though no one else will. The formula "on that day" is used throughout the Old Testament, and the fourth gospel uses it here to underline Jesus' relationship and identification with the Father. What's more, the community's relationship with Jesus is the same as Jesus' relationship with the Father, the first such statement in the fourth gospel.
The community "knows" the advocate, and, "on that day," the community "will know" that Jesus is in the Father. The word is ginosko. Ginosko, as previously mentioned, is knowledge through intimate experience--"mystical knowledge," you might say. It is not so much a reasoned-based "knowing," but more revelation-based "knowing."
The fourth gospel anticipates some of the trinitarian debate that would come two or three hundred years later. The Son is in intimate relationship with the Father, yet is distinct from the Father. Jesus has a direct relationship with the Father, and a direct relationship with the community, though the community itself is in relationship with the Father indirectly, through Jesus.
The Father is utterly transcendent, known only through the Son. John Sanford notes that "in Christian mystical thought...the Father is God as the uncreated One, pure Being or Existence itself who cannot be known or described in any human categories."
The Father is beyond space and time, and, therefore, beyond description. The eastern tradition calls this "apophatic" theology, which means that God can only be described in negatives, i.e. without name, without origin, without end. Gregory of Nyssa:
"There is no way of comprehending the indefinable as by a scheme of words. For the Divine is too noble and lofty to be indicated by a name, and we have learned to honor by silence that which transcends reason and thought." (Against Eunomius, 10)
The question is: If the Father is unknown, how can be the Father be known? The fourth gospel asserts: The Father can be known through the Son. The Father cannot be known, but the Son can be known, and to know the Son is to know the Father.
There is a shift in verse 21. Until then, Jesus had been speaking to the community--the "yous" were all plural, you'll remember. In verse 21, Jesus speaks to the individual. The NRSV continues to use "they" here, but the verse should actually be translated: "The one having my commandments and keeping them is the one loving me. The one loving me will be loved by my Father, and I will love that one and will manifest myself to that one."
The primary sense of the sentence is to enjoin both community and individual in loving one another and Jesus. Secondly however, it would be a mistake to view this in an exclusive way. Jesus is not saying that God will not love others who don't love. The fourth gospel is underscoring, however, the reciprocity of relationship. Those in mutual relationship with each other--those who menei together and with Jesus--will want to live out the very basis of that relationship, which is love.