THE FIVE HOLY SPIRIT PROMISES IN ST. JOHN’S GOSPEL: Part Five


Now to offer a brief reflection on the fifth and final promise concerning the Holy Spirit found in St. John’s Gospel (16:12-15).

I have much more to tell you,

but you cannot bear it now.

But when he comes, the Spirit of truth,

he will guide you to all truth.

He will not speak on his own,

but will speak what he hears,

and will declare to you the things that are coming.

He will glorify me,

because he will take from what is mine

and declare it to you.

Everything that the Father has is mine;

for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine

and declare it to you.

This promise is distinctive among the five for its richness and the multiple directions the Holy Spirit moves within the disciples. The Spirit will ‘guide into all truth,’ will ‘speak what he hears,’ will ‘declare’ and ‘glorify’ the Son. Notably, the juridical tone that dominates the first four promises is gone from this promise (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 422). In this promise, all is relationship. The relationship of the Spirit to the Son, which is the same as that between the Son and the Father, all shared in relationship with the disciple.

There is then, in this promise, an overarching melody that offers a glimpse into the eternal interrelationship of the Trinitarian God and the disciples share in that life. Just as the Son glorifies the Father by revealing his loving and saving plan for all people, so too does the Holy Spirit glorify the Son by filling the hearts of believers with affection and trust for the Son. As the Father withholds nothing from the Son, for all eternity, so too does the Son withhold nothing from the Spirit, who in turn graciously pours this everything into the hearts and minds of believers.   We glimpse here eternal love and the promise of being drawn into this love is extended to us.

Essentially, this fifth promise makes precise the action of the Spirit in relationship to the words and life of Christ. “[T]he future action of the Paraclete consists in rendering living and effective, in the lives of believers, the word of Jesus. One can therefore say, in a certain sense, that it is Jesus himself who continues to ‘speak’ to the disciples; but from now on, in a new and interior manner, by the Spirit” (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 444). The Spirit’s role is “to ensure in the Church the living permanence” of the words of Jesus (ibid).

The opening line of this promise, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now,” gives an added dimension to the particular role of the Spirit. The Spirit does not simply repeat what has already been said or, even, sustain what Jesus has previously taught. Rather, the Spirit must in some way serve “to interpret the mysterious revelation of Jesus so as to come to unfold its full sense” (Ignace de la Potterie, La Vérité dans Saint Jean, Tome I, 448). There is, importantly, no adding to the teaching of Jesus, but an unpacking of its richness and significance for the believer in the concrete circumstances that will confront them as they go forth bearing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Once again we see that the Spirit comes to make the teaching of Christ accessible to the believer precisely at the moment the believer is most ready to receive and appropriate that teaching.

This final promise offers us the beautiful assurance that because of the active presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will never be far from us. As a matter of fact, precisely because Jesus has gone and given way to the Spirit, Jesus has become more interior to us than he ever could have been simply by remaining a physical presence within history. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus’       words and deeds, accomplished once for all in the distant past, are made alive, present and meaningful for us exactly where we live and act today.

Because the Holy Spirit is with us, we know with absolute confidence: Jesus Christ is alive!

Father Tony currently serves as pastor of Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud.

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