Life in the Spirit

The Feast of Pentecost; 23 May 2021; Pentecost B (RCL); Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27, 16:14b-15.

I’m always fascinated by verses the lectionary omits. In the reading from John’s Gospel, the first three and half verses of chapter 16 have to do with the hour coming when John’s community will be put of the synagogue, and persecuted even to death. I understand why we would want to leave those verse out, but I don’t think the rest of the reading makes sense without them. Jesus tells his disciples that it is for their benefit that he is going away, so that the Advocate may come. The advocate will charge the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

The word being translated Advocate is παράκλητος — paraklete — which has the meaning of the person one calls to one’s side in the courtroom; so we could translate ‘defense attorney.’ Advocate does a pretty good job, but the courtroom connotation could be stronger. If John’s community is being accused before the synagogue, the paraklete is making their defense.

So, the paraklete will expose to the world the true nature of sin and righteousness and judgment. Sin is failure to trust in Jesus. Jesus is the true righteousness, even though it looks like he was condemned as a criminal, because he is going to the Father. And it is the ruler of this world who has been judged, not the Johannine community.

Of course, this skates awfully close to sectarian thinking, something true throughout John’s Gospel: everything inside is good, and light, and true, while everything outside is bad, and dark, and false. In that way of thinking, it’s us against the rest of the world, and the Spirit (since this is Pentecost) come to our defense, and proves the rest of the world to be in the wrong.

Paul imagines the gift of the Spirit in almost opposite terms. Creation has been subjected to futility, not of its own will, but of the will of the one who subjected it (Adam?), but the revealing of the children of God will free it from it’s subjection. This is part of the old Adam/new Adam dynamic in Paul. Adam’s sin exposed the world to sin and decay. The new Adam will restore the creation to its proper state. We, the baptized, who participate in the new humanity (the new Adam) are the hope of the cosmos. The cosmos groans in expectation for our revealing. Even though we don’t know how to intercede for the world, the Spirit, the same Spirit of adoption that lets us cry “Abba, Father,” will intercede through us for the restoration of the world.

And Luke sees the gift of the Spirit in similar terms. The spirit undoes the chaos of Babel, and does away with the distinctions we have drawn between one and another. The Spirit allows each of us to hear the mighty works of God in our own language (dialect is the word Luke uses). It is the undoing of all the false distinctions we draw that restores the world to the purposes intended by God.

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