Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 14.8-17 (25-27)
Pentecost Day - Year C

Other texts: 


All of these verses are part of other lections of the Revised Common Lectionary.

GENERAL COMMENTS -- PARACLETE

Our text contains the first of four "Paraclete" passages in John (14:16-17) which is probably why it was chosen for Pentecost. The optional addition includes the second passage (14:26).

To repeat previous comments about Paraclete, I find it best not to translate this word 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".

Besides, keeping the word untranslated lends itself to some fun puns. The Paraclete is not a little yellow bird. Paracletes are not those things on the bottom of football and baseball shoes.

This word occurs five times in the NT. It is used in 1 John 2:1 to refer to Jesus; and four times in Jesus' Farewell Discourse in John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). In 14:16-17 and 15:26, "Paraclete" is used in conjunction with "Spirit of truth" -- a phrase that will appear in next week's gospel reading (16:12-15).

If the Paraclete is a "helper in court," whose helper is it? It could be our Helper -- representing us before God as Jesus does in 1 John 2:1. However, I'm more inclined to think of it as Jesus' Helper in two ways. These are suggested by O'Day's commentary on John (New Interpreter's Bible). (1) The continuing presence of Jesus and (2) a teacher and witness to Jesus.

An approach over the next two weeks might be to talk about the Spirit as the Presence of Jesus on Pentecost and as Teacher and Witness on Trinity Sunday.

A closer look at our text.

JESUS: THE PRESENCE OF THE FATHER (vv. 8-9)

Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. What does he mean by this? What does he expect? What would "show" the Father? What would "satisfy" the disciples?

Verse 9a seems to imply that spending a lot of time with Jesus is not the same thing as "knowing" him -- that is, knowing that "seeing him is seeing the Father".

Note also the use of "Father" throughout the Farewell Discourse (23 times in chapter 14). There are some indications in John that Jesus' Father may be different than the Jews' understanding of God -- knowing God is not quite the same as knowing (= being related to?) the Father. Jesus tells the Pharisees -- who certainly would have believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also" (8:16).

And "to the Jews who had believed in him" (8:31): "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

Thus, there seems to be a difference between "God" and "Father." That difference might be how we understand our relationship with God/Father.

These same words (ginosko = "to know" and horao = "to see") are in v. 7: "If you had known me, you will also know my Father and from now on you know him and have seen him." Knowing Jesus is knowing the Father. Seeing Jesus is seeing the Father. Hearing Jesus is hearing the Father.

OUR RESPONSE: BELIEVE (vv. 10-11)

Three times in these verses the word "to believe" is used (pisteuo). In all three instances they are present tense verbs implying continuous or repeated action, i.e., "keep on believing," "continue to believe." This shifts the focus from Jesus' revelation of God to our acceptance of it. The first occurrence (v. 10) the subject is a singular "you," referring to Philip who had asked the question in v. 8. The other two times (v. 11) the subjects are plural "yous." The shift occurs in v. 10b when Jesus says, "The words which I am speaking to y'all."

The content of the believing from this text (whether individual or corporate) is that Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus (both v. 10 & v. 11). This is a major part of what defines us as Christians -- the relationship between Jesus and the Father. This belief comes about either through Jesus words (which come from the Father) or through his deeds (ergon v. 11, which God does through him v. 10).

Earlier, Jesus had defined the work (ergon) of God: It is to believe in him whom God has sent (6:28-29). (Interestingly it doesn't say that the work of God is to believe in God!) One's work (or deeds) indicate one's father (8:39-41). I maintain that what one really believes is illustrated more by actions than by one's words. A more important question to ask than "What do you believe?" is "What differences does it make that you believe?" How did Jesus indicate that God was his Father? How do we indicate that God is our Father? Is it not through both our words and our deeds -- and don't actions speak louder than our words?

Note also that in 14:6 Jesus states: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." I think that the term "Father" is important there. Jesus is not the way to just any God, but into a relationship with the God who is Father -- Father to Jesus, and by (re-)creation (being born from above) or by adoption, also our Father.

JESUS IS LEAVING, WE ARE STAYING AND WORKING (vv. 12-14)

After Jesus has made it clear that he is in the Father and the Father is in him -- that seeing Jesus is seeing the Father, hearing Jesus is hearing the Father, the works Jesus does are the Father's works, knowing Jesus is knowing the Father -- then Jesus tells them that he is going away.

As Jesus' work was God's work, so the works of the believers is Jesus' work. We share in the revealing work of Jesus to point to the Father. Can we say that when others see our works or hear our words, we are revealing our Father to them? If people were to ask us, as Philip asked Jesus, "Show us the Father?" how should we respond? Is telling them to look to Jesus enough? What are our responsibilities to be the illustrations of the presence of the Father in the world?

How are our works greater than Jesus'? Ours come after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Ours come within the new, eschatological age ushered in by Jesus' "hour" of glory. Ours come with Jesus having gone to the Father so that the Paraclete might come and be with us forever, v. 16.

However, vv. 13-14 indicate that our works are really Jesus actions in response to our asking. Perhaps two limiting factors to our asking are: (1) Our requests are "in Jesus' name," meaning asking for what Jesus would want -- which may not be the same as we would want. (2) Our requests are answered with Jesus' promise: "I will do it" -- I doubt that what Jesus will do will be any different from what he did do during his earthly ministry. While Jesus performed signs and miracles, Jesus' glorification of the Father also led him to suffering and the cross. I'm not sure that I am willing to ask Jesus: "Would you do through me whatever it costs to glorify the Father?" I want to limit the "whatever" to the miraculous and the "costs" to "not too much". Jesus' actions that glorified the Father included the suffering that cost him his life.

Jesus has promised greater works. I'm not sure we are ready to pay the price.

THE ETERNAL PRESENCE OF THE PARACLETE (vv. 15-17)

With the statement that Jesus is going to the Father, there is also the promise of the coming of the Paraclete, who will be with us forever. (Note that in v. 18, there is also the promise of Christ's return.)

The words describing the relationship between the Paraclete (Spirit of truth) and the disciples in v. 17 are the same words that Jesus had used about his relationship with the Father in v. 10: to remain or dwell (meno) and "to be in" (en...einai).

This continuing presence of the Paraclete is with the community (y'all) rather than a promise to individuals. The contrast is between the group with the Spirit's presence and the world who is without it.

This is a particular relationship. It is something that the world cannot receive "because it is neither seeing nor knowing it." (The Greek pronoun is neuter to properly correspond to the neuter pneuma = Spirit.) This may also suggest that one cannot find the Spirit by looking in the world (nature?), but only by being part of the community of Spirit-filled believers.

In our text (and in 15:26, see also 16:13), the Paraclete is called "The Spirit of truth." This phrase is best understood as an objective genitive: "The Spirit who communicates the truth" although the subjective genitive also has merit: "The true Spirit."

What is the truth the Spirit communicates? From John 16:8; it "proves the world wrong the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment."

The reason the world is wrong about sin is because they do not believe in Jesus! I think that believing in Jesus frees us to honestly confront our sinfulness, to confess and repent of our wrong deeds, rather than trying to ignore them or rationalize them; to confess that "I am a sinner," which is a deeper recognition than just "I make mistakes," rather than pretending that I am a more righteous person than I really am.

Why might the world be unable to receive the Spirit of truth? It doesn't want to hear the truth about itself. If it will not be convinced of its sinfulness, it also has no need for Jesus. If it has no need for Jesus, it doesn't need to watch for his coming.

How can we know if the Paraclete is in us? Should we look for little, yellow birds or spiked shoes <g>. (The answers below are somewhat individualistic in opposition to what I said earlier about the presence of the Spirit among "y'all".)

First of all, we claim the truth of baptism -- we have been born of water and the Spirit.

Secondly, if we recognize ourselves as sinners and falling under God's judgment -- who tells us that truth about ourselves? It is the Spirit of Truth in our lives. It is the Paraclete's job to convict us of sin and judgment.

Thirdly, if we recognize and believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our savior and friend, who wins forgiveness for us -- who tells us that truth about Jesus? It is the Spirit of Truth in our lives. It is the Paraclete's job to convince us of our salvation and righteousness in Jesus.

As a summary of this section of the Paraclete as Jesus' continuing presence, O'Day (John, The New Interpreter's Bible) writes:

Jesus' death and departure thus presented the disciples, and the church, with a crisis far greater than simply the loss of their teacher and friend. Jesus' death and return to God marked the end of the incarnation. If the revelation of God is lodged in the incarnation, what happens when Jesus is gone? Was Jesus' revelation of God possible for only the first generation of believers, available only to those who had physical contact with Jesus and his ministry? Was Jesus' revelation of God thus limited to one particular moment in history, or does it have a future?

It is the theological genius of the fourth Evangelist to present the Paraclete as the solution to this crisis. Throughout Jesus' words about the Paraclete, the emphasis repeatedly falls on the Paraclete as the one who will continue Jesus' work after his absence, as the one who will make it possible for the experience of God made known and available in the incarnation to be known after Jesus' death....

Through the promise of the Paraclete, the Fourth Evangelist is able to portray Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension not as the end, but as the beginning of a new era in the life of the believing community. [pp. 775-776]

THE CONTINUING PRESENCE OF THE COMMANDMENTS (vv. 15-17)

These verses also suggest that Jesus' continues to be present through his commandments or his words. Most of these following notes are an abbreviation of this section of my exegetical notes on 14:15-21 -- assigned for 6 Easter A.

V. 15 is a conditional statement -- a future more vivid condition -- which makes a definite and unqualified statement about some future event. How it is translated depends on which variant reading one chooses.

Brown, using the subjunctive variant reading for teresete ("keep"), suggests a two part protasis and a one part apodosis:

If you love me and keep my commandments, then I will ask the Father . . . ."

However, the more accepted reading, and the one used in NRSV and most translations is the future; which supports one protasis and a two part apodosis:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments and I will ask the Father . . . ."

NOTE: the verb agapate is a present subjunctive, implying a continued act of loving Jesus.

agapao also implies more than having "warm feelings" towards. It emphasizes "showing one's love" or "demonstrating one's love" -- sometimes even without the inner "feeling". E.g., "loving" one's enemies doesn't mean to develop warm feelings for them, but to do "beneficial deeds for" them.

However, I'm not sure we can say that Jesus needs us to do beneficial deeds for him. What does loving Jesus mean? Malina and Rohrbaugh in their social-science studies indicate that love means attachment to. Loving Jesus is being devoted to Jesus. Committing ourselves to him.

How do we show our love for Jesus? By keeping his commandments. That's an answer to the question: "What does it mean to have a relationship with Jesus in his absence?"

What are Jesus commandments (note the plural, also in 14:21; 15:10)? His commandment (singular) is that we are to love one another (13:34; 15:12).

It should also be noted that the keeping the commandments is not necessarily the same as obedience to the Torah. Jesus is asked in 8:5: "Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" She wasn't stoned.

In other notes (most recently on 14:23), I have expressed my belief that "to keep" (tereo) might be better understood as "to hold dear" or "to consider important." "Obey" is not given as a meaning for this word in my Greek-English Lexicons!

This interpretation goes beyond mere obedience. One may detest the commands that one is hearing. "Keeping Jesus' commandments" as I've defined it ("holding it dear") suggests having a positive attitude towards those commandments -- wanting to hear and obey them out of love for the speaker.

Loving Jesus and "holding dear" what Jesus said are inseparable. In ch. 14-15, twice "love" comes before "keep" (14:15 & 23) and twice "keep" comes before "love" (14:21; 15:10). In addition, "keeping" is used with "commandments" (entole) (14:15, 21; 15:10) and with "word" (logos) (14:23, 24; 15:20). Loving Jesus and "holding dear" his word or commandments are inseparable.

In another meeting, there has been some discussion concerning people who say, "I am saved" or "I am a Christian," yet do not think it important to "do this in remembrance of me." It is as if they believe, "I love Jesus, and I might keep his commandments -- as long as they don't interfere with my own (Sunday) plans."

Mark Allan Powell in, Loving Jesus, has these comments:

I remember being at an outdoor rock festival, and there was a young man with pink hair and multiple body piercing waving his hands above his head and singing of his love for Jesus. I talked to him afterward. "I love Jesus so much," he said to m. "Jesus is my life, man, my whole life!" I asked him what church he was from, and he looked at me, puzzled. "No, man, I don't really do church, you know. It's Jesus, that's what it's about. Just Jesus."

... A professor by the name of Diane Jacobson ... [lists], in David Letterman fashion, the Top Ten reasons why Christianity as opposed to just Jesus is unattractive to people in their teens and twenties. The Number One reason, she says, is ... "It's boring!" But why is that an issue now? I'm not sure that church has suddenly become significantly more boring than it used to be. I suspect, rather, that in an entertainment-saturated environment, for something to be boring is regarded as a much more serious offense than was once the case. ...

I remember talking to another Christian rock fan down in Austin, Texas. He was a Jesus freak, just like I used to be and still want to be, and I envied him. He was just living in the joy of the Lord, reading his Bible every day and praying to Jesus and speaking in tongues and playing Christian rock on his stereo. When I asked him abut church, he didn't write it off, but he did say that he hadn't been able to find a congregation where he felt like he fit in. "The church where I'm a member," he said, "it's like something out of an old back-and-white TV show. You know, Ozzie and Harriett or Leave It To Beaver. Everybody dresses up in suits, and they play this music that doesn't sound like anything on the radio and the preacher talks about things that have nothing to do with my life, and, I don't know, it's just ... boring!" So, he said, he didn't go. I asked him about finding a different church, but he didn't know about denominations and didn't really want to get into all the different doctrines and stuff, so he just didn't go anywhere. "Maybe when I'm older, I'll get more out of it," he said. "Or maybe the church will, you know, lighten up or something."

Well, this time, I did give advice. I don't know if it was good advice or not, but I thought about it overnight and then I got back to him:

"Do you love Jesus?" I asked.

"Yes, I do. I love him with all my heart."

"Would you die for him?"

"Yes, I would."

"You would die for him, but you won't be bored for him?"

And so I said, this is what I think the Lord wants you to do: I think that Jesus wants you to get out of bed every Sunday morning and go to the Ozzie and Harriet church and just sit there for one hour, being bored. Do it for him. Call it "bearing your cross" if you like. Just do it. (pp. 128-130)

The connection between love and keeping the commandments is illustrated by Jesus himself in v. 31. He is doing what the Father has commanded him, so that the world might know that he is loving the Father. The purpose of Jesus' obedience is witnessing. As I suggested earlier, what we do is an indication of who is our Father. How we live is a witness to the world about our faith/relationship with the Father.

THE PARACLETE AGAIN (vv. 25-27)

The following are the notes on these verses I posted a few weeks ago for 6 Easter C (14:23-29).

In our text, the Paraclete will teach us "everything" and remind us of "all" that Jesus has said to us. I don't think that it is too much of a stretch to say that the Paraclete "helps" us to hear Jesus' word -- which, as I noted above, brings the continuing presence of Jesus and his Father to us. The Paraclete reveals Jesus to us. Without the help of the Paraclete we will not properly hear or remember the word of Jesus' presence.

James G. Somerville in "Who Will Take Care of Us?" in The Christian Century, p. 471, presents a unique illustration of the Paraclete:

When my wife puts her hand on the doorknob, her coat over her arm, my children look up from what they are doing to ask: "Who will take care of us?" and she gives them the name of one of their regular babysitters. All of them are capable, and my children enjoy the attention, but if my wife gives them one name -- "Brittain" -- my children leap up from what they are doing and rejoice. Brittain reads to them, romps with them, acts out plays and makes chocolate chip cookies; she nurtures their young lives like a loving parent, and as long as she is with them they are not afraid.

I don't know that the Holy Spirit has ever been compared to a babysitter. But if you can imagine Jesus as a mother, then it may not be so hard to imagine the Spirit in this other role, as one who cares for the church in the interim between Jesus' departure and return, as one who comforts, teaches, reminds and, yes, sometimes even romps with the sons and daughters of God.

In the words of Jesus then, "Rejoice!"

PEACE

Whenever I see the word "peace" (eirene), I think that it needs to be interpreted first in a communal aspect -- the way people get along with one another, rather than in an individual sense of inner tranquility. However, the inner sense might be implied in this verse which goes on with the command, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." So it may have a sense of the inner feelings (of the community) in this verse.

There are a couple of contrasts presented:

Another use of "peace" that may apply here is that it is the mark of the reign of God. I quote from Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North American, edited by Darrell L. Gruder:

A definitive answer to the question, What is the reign of God? cannot be given. But we can at least sketch some of its contours by listening to the Old Testament's prophetic forecasts of the coming day of God and the prophets' expectations of God intended future for the world. In lectures given in the early 1980s, philosopher Arthur Holmes summarized that prophetic vision as shalom. It envisions a world characterized by peace, justice, and celebration. Shalom, the overarching vision of the future, means "peace," but not merely peace as the cessation of hostilities. Instead, shalom envisions the full prosperity of a people of God living under the covenant of God's demanding care and compassion are rule. In the prophetic vision, peace such as this comes hand in hand with justice. Without justice, there can be no real peace, and without peace, no real justice. Indeed, only in a social world full of peace grounded in justice can there come the full expression of joy and celebration. [pp. 90-91]

Jesus gave the same command about not having troubled hearts in 14:1. There the contrast was between "troubled hearts" and "believing in God and in Jesus." At the same time that Jesus commands us not to have troubled hearts, we read that Jesus "troubled himself" (11:33 -- "was deeply moved" in NRSV); and was troubled in his soul (12:27) and in his spirit (13:21).

What would be troubling our hearts? In our passage, I think it most directly refers to the death and departure of Jesus. In the verse following his comments about "troubled and fearful hearts," he again talks about his going away and coming (v. 28). Both verbs are present tense! We might expect that if Jesus were speaking to the disciples in the upper room, he would have used the future -- he will go away and he will come. However, the present tense, I think, places these words after the ascension. John's readers and we experience Jesus sometimes going away from us and sometimes coming to us. I've already talked about Jesus being present to us through the word and the Paraclete who teaches and reminds us of that word. Sometimes the Presence can seem very close and other times we may feel forsaken. It is to be noted that our feelings do not determine the reality of the Presence in our lives, but they do affect our perception of reality.


Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 9590
e-mail: brian.stoffregen@gmail.com