6th Sunday of Easter – Year A
Even today’s Gospel, like last Sunday’s, is taken from the first of three farewell speeches given by Jesus at the Last Supper.
The disciples have understood that Jesus is leaving them. They are sad and they ask themselves how they could continue to be united and to love him if he is gone.
Jesus promised not to leave them alone, without protection and guidance. He said that he will pray to the Father, and he will “send the other Paraclete” who will always be with them (v. 16). It is the promise of the gift of that Spirit that Jesus possesses in fullness (Lk 4:1,14,18) and will be infused into the disciples.
Jesus clarifies (vv. 15,17) that the Spirit could be received only by those who are in accord with him, with his plans and his works of love. The world cannot receive it.
What is this world to which the Spirit is not destined? Are they the pagans, those far away who do not belong to the group of the disciples or the members of other religions?
The world as Jesus intends it, is not the persons, but those parts in the heart of the person—of each person—wherein darkness, sin, and death reign. Where there is hatred, concupiscence, unregulated passion, there the world is present with its spirit contrary to that of Christ’s. Paul reminds the Corinthians of it as they allowed themselves to be guided by human wisdom.
The Spirit is called by two names. He is called the Comforter (Paraclito) and the Spirit of truth. These are the two functions he exercises on believers.
Comforter is not a good translation of the Greek Parakletos. Paraclete is a term taken from the legal language and indicates the one who is called to be beside.
In ancient times, there was no establishment of lawyers; each defendant had to defend himself, trying to bring witnesses to exonerate the allegations. It happened sometimes that some, though not guilty, was unable to prove his innocence or that, despite having committed the crime, deserved forgiveness. For him, there remained one last hope: that in the midst of the assembly there would be a person honored by all for his moral integrity. That blameless person, without uttering any word, would get up and would go to place himself at his side. This gesture is equivalent to an acquittal. No one would have dared to ask for more condemnation. This “defender” is called the “Paraclete” that is, “one who is called to the side of another who finds himself in trouble.”
The meaning of this first title is, therefore, protector, helper, and defender.
Jesus promises his disciples another Paraclete, since they already have one, he himself as John explains in his first letter: “My little children, I write you these things so that you may not sin; but if anyone does sin, we have a Paraclete by the Father’s side: the righteous Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 2:1).
And Jesus is the Paraclete inasmuch as our advocate with the Father not because he defends us from his wrath, provoked by our sins (the Father is always on our side, as Jesus). He protects us against our accuser, our opponent, and against sin. The enemy is sin, and Jesus knows how to refute and reduce it to impotence.
The second Paraclete’s task is not to replace the first, but to fulfill a mission. In fact, he is sent together with Jesus who “returns” in the midst of his own (v. 18). Jesus is not going away; he simply changed the type of presence, no longer the physical one, but that of the Risen One. He is staying with his disciples is a new way, infinitely more real—even in its invisibility—more lasting and unlimited than before.
The Spirit is the Paraclete because he helps the disciples in their battle against the world, that is against the forces of evil (Jn 16:7-11).
John reminds the Christians of his community of this truth so that, in the midst of the difficulties of life, they would not be discouraged, despaired, and would not lose their serenity, peace of heart and joy. The disciple believes in the assistance of the Spirit. He is not afraid, nor broken down even when he has to admit that there are still so many spiritual miseries, frailties, and so many evil inclinations. He is convinced of the strength of the Paraclete and he is sure not to be defeated.
The second title is the Spirit of truth, which sets out another function of the Paraclete.
His work in the service of truth is expressed in various ways.
Let’s start with the simplest. We all know what happens when a story goes from mouth to mouth. It is subject to deformations, is altered to such an extent as to become unrecognizable.
The message of Jesus is for all people. It must be preached until the ends of the world. Who assures us that it won’t be corrupted, won’t undergo deviant interpretations? Humanly speaking, the venture seems desperate. However, we have the certainty that all will be able to attain from the pure source of the Gospel. It is because in the Church, charged to announce it, the force of the Spirit of truth promised by Jesus is working.
His service to the truth is not limited to this part that we could call negative. He does not impede only errors that are introduced in the transmission of the message of Christ. He performs another positive function: he introduces the disciples to the fullness of the truth.
There are truths that Jesus has not explicitly dealt with or that has developed in all its details because the disciples were not able to understand them (Jn 16:12-15). He knew that, along the centuries, there would arise new problems and questions. Where would authentic responses, conformed to his thoughts, be found?
Jesus promises the intervention of the Spirit also at this level: He is charged to introduce the disciples to the discovery of the whole truth. He will not say anything new or contrary to him. He will help to capture his message to the very end, until the very last consequences.
The duty of Christians is to remain open to the impulse of the Spirit who always reveals new things. He is, by his nature, the one who renews the face of the earth (Ps 104:30).
It is a sin against the Spirit (and very grave indeed cf. Mt 12:31) to oppose the renewal, to refuse the innovations that favor the life of the community, that bring people closer to Christ and to the brethren, that increase the joy and peace, that help people to pray better and free the heart from useless fears.
Those who stubbornly remains attached to already obsolete and worn out religious traditions, who are not diligently given to the study of the Word of God, who do not accept updating of rites, formulae, liturgical gestures, who give old answers to new problems, who do not accept with joy the discovery of biblical exegesis, they place themselves in opposition to the Spirit of truth.
For the evangelist John, the term truth has a more profound meaning. It indicates God who manifests himself in Jesus. He is the truth (Jn 14:6) because the total revelation of God is realized in him. To refuse him is a lie; it is a choice contrary to his truth. Satan, the enemy of the truth, the father of lies (Jn 8:44) is all that far from Christ.
The Spirit acts in an opposing way: he introduces the truth, acts in the intimacy of each person and does so, freely; he tends to choose Christ and adheres to his plans. He is like the wind that brings up towards upper grounds and brings in an irresistible way to salvation.
It is difficult to imagine that the impulse of the Holy Spirit fails to introduce everyone in truth. Why doubt, however tenuous that doubt is, that this divine impulse towards life is stronger than the world, still present in each of us?
Italian missionary and biblical scholar