Gospel: John 16:12-15
Power and Presence
Have you ever met someone whose power of character and presence dramatically affected you? Who was it? What happened?
Thirty years ago, when I taught in a Catholic high school, I met one of those rare people whose presence changed the "atmosphere" in room. This fourteen year old girl had more than her share of troubles in life. But, instead of breaking from the weight of her life experience or attempting to escape from its pain or leeching upon others for attention and help, this young lady gained an inner strength from her troubles. Her mere silent presence in the room projected that inner power to everyone she met. She was one of the few teenagers I had ever met who was at peace with herself and was truly authentic.
In life, we will all meet people who project a presence that is immediate and palpable. Without saying a word, we will know them and the power of their character. Jesus was one of those people. But the presence he projected was more than himself. And the power he possessed was more than one experienced in the average person. That presence and power transcended his own death. And created a community of believers.
Jesus said to his followers:
12 I still have a lot to say to you.
But you could not stand to hear
what I would say
14 When the Spirit comes,
he will show you the entire truth.
He will not speak just for himself.
No, he will tell you everything he hears from God.
And he will declare what is coming.
14 The Spirit honors me,
because he will receive my words
and will declare them to you.
15 Everything the Father has is mine.
That's why I told you,
'The Spirit will receive my words
and will declare them to you.'
Like much of Jesus' monologue in John, these passages are difficult to place into a context. Verses 14-15 can be easily misinterpreted because the term "words" in many translations (see the Popular Translation above) does not actually appear in the text; the Spirit receives and declares more than words.
A little background will help explain what John was trying to say. Consider the analogy of the person who projects a presence of power into a group of people. The personality of the person might be intangible, but the person's physical presence (i.e., his or her body) projects the personality. The body becomes a vehicle of communication.
The personality itself has a power than can change others. That power can "breathe life" into a party, or "suck the air out of" a group. That power can inspire people to a greater good or to a greater evil.
Now, notice the language we have used to describe presence (body as a vehicle of communication) and power (breathe). New Testament Greek has two terms that parallel this language: "logos" (translated as "word") and "pneuma" (translated as "spirit").
In Greek, logos was more than that which was spoken or written. Logos was that which acted as a means of communication. The ultimate end of the logos carry the presence of one person to another, even if that person had passed away. Not only could one's body be considered a logos (remember non-verbal communication), another person could be one's logos. For example, in the ancient schools of rhetoric, students would represent great leaders or philosophers in debates. The winner of the debate was not the person who could capture the hearts of the crowd with passion and logic. No, the winner would be the person who could best make the spirit of the leader or philosopher present. The winner was the one who could communicate the essence of the person from the past. The logos, then, was that which communicated the presence of the person. The written or spoken word, the body of the person or even another could act as one's logos.
The logos not only communicated ones' presence. It also communicated one's power. That personal power was represented in the breathe of the person. No wonder, the Greek phrase for spirit, breathe, and even wind was "pneuma." That which made the logos come alive was the pneuma.
The concepts of logos and pnema become critically important when we discuss the Christian experience of God. When John declared Jesus was the Logos of God in 1:1, he clearly referred to this concept. Jesus was the one who communicated the presence of God. When people gathered around Jesus (and later in the early Christian communities), they experienced not only the personality of the Nazarene. They encountered God himself.
They experienced more than God's presence. They experienced his power, his Pneuma. With God's power, they experienced change, radical shifts in belief and lifestyle. God's Spirit, his Pneuma, was truly dynamic.
With distinction of logos and pneuma made, let us look into John's gospel to explore who the Spirit is and how the Spirit serves the believer.
Jesus said to his disciples:
12 Still many things I have to say to you, but you are not able to bear (them) now. 13 When that one comes, the Spirit of truth, he will lead you in all truth. For, he will not speak for himself, but he will speak as much as he hears (from God), and he will declare to you the coming (events).
16:13 "he will lead you in all truth" can be interpreted "he will cause you to know all truth." Instead of merely being a guide, the Spirit has a more direct and dynamic effect on the believer. Hence, the verb "lead" could be translated "lead to know."
"he will declare to you the coming (events)" The coming events referred to the end times, not to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many times, John has Jesus speaking directly to the reader. And in the context of the verse, the Spirit had not been breathed out upon the apostles.
The word "true" has two different meanings in English that have parallels in Greek. Consider the phrase "'2 + 2 = 4' is true." This phrase expresses a factual statement. But the phrase "God is true" expresses faithfulness in a relationship. When we speak of faith, relationship with God precedes facts about that relationship. John followed this flow. Truth began with an encounter with the divine, then a description of that relationship.
As God's Power, the Spirit communicated the only truth that matters. Truth in John's sense was the ultimate truth, God's truth. All other truths paled in comparison. And this truth was not merely God's statements found in the Bible. This was THE truth between God and people. A relationship, not merely information about a relationship. The Spirit would lead the believer into a true relationship with God. That relationship would find its fulfillment in the Second Coming.
14 That one will glorify me because he will receive (things) out of me and he will declare (them) to you. 15 All the Father has is mine. Because of this (fact), I said, 'he receives (things) out of me and he declares them to you."
Beginning with the relationship the Spirit established between God and people (i.e., the Truth), John moved to the way the Spirit served the believer. The power of God, the Spirit, received the presence of God (all the Father has) from the Son and declares it (i.e., gives it) to the believer. In other words, by the power the Spirit, God the Father becomes present in the life of the follower.
In these few words, John spoke volumes about the Christian's experience of God. Jesus was the means the Father made himself present; he was the Logos. The Spirit, God's power, brought God himself to the follower. A quick glance over John's text above may lead the reader to equate revelation (that which the Spirit heard, received from the Son and declared to the believer) with information. But that would be a shallow reading, indeed. For, it was not what was revealed, but who was revealed.
What experiences of God have you had? How powerful were those experiences? How did you feel the presence of God?
The notion of the Trinity says far more about the Christian experience of God than about God himself. Yes, the Church recognizes there is one unique divine nature found in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. But, this and the other doctrines about God are rooted in an encounter with the Transcendent. The Christian finds God in a relationship with Jesus the Christ. He reveals the vast reality we call "Father." And, in him, we find the ultimate power, that which we call "Spirit."
As the instrument of God's presence, Jesus is the Logos. We still experience Christ in Word and Sacrament, in private prayer and in community. Through Christ, we experience the intimacy that the Father offers. In Christ, God is present to us.
As the power of God, the Spirit is the Pneuma. In the Spirit, we are changed. We become more like the one who sent the Power. Our experience of the Spirit might be radical and overwhelming, or it might be barely perceptible and easily over looked. But that experience shifts us away from the self toward the Source and toward others.
That, in nutshell, is the Christian experience. That, in a nutshell, is source of our knowledge about the Trinity.
Obviously you cannot plan to have an experience of God. Such experiences are gifts. But you can be open to his power and presence. Take a few moments each day this week. And open yourself to God.