This post might as well begin with a true confession: I’ve had a conflict-laden relationship with gospel according to John, and the long passage known as the “Farewell Discourse” of Jesus (chapters 14 through 17) hasn’t helped much. I made an uneasy peace years back, and my affection for the outlier of the four gospels grows with each year I study and preach it.
That said, a few weeks ago a commenter on a Facebook thread threw out the phrase “mansplainy praying Jesus,” and I laughed for twenty minutes.
John 14:15-21 is just a few paragraphs into that Farewell Discourse, which John presents as Jesus’ words to and prayers for his disciples on the night he is is betrayed. He will be dead on a cross within twenty-four hours. But this is not the terrified Jesus of the synoptic gospels, who prays fervently, “Father, let this cup pass from me…” Here, Jesus is comforting at the same time he is truth-telling. He is also, as one who knows death is coming, is speaking to those closest to him, and giving them his instructions as to how best to remember him, to maintain his legacy.
In chapter 13, Jesus gave a “new commandment”: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34b). He stated that this would be the defining, recognizable characteristic of his followers. Here, he moves into a realm of intimacy: “If you love me,” he says, “keep my commandments.” These can sound like the words of a manipulative parent. But we often seek to show our love the dead by stating our intention to live as they would want us to live. In that context, this is information his disciples want and need.
Jesus then promises to ask (beseech? entreat? pray?) God to send another, the “paracletos,” which the NRSV translates as “Advocate.” The roots of the word mean, one who is summoned, called alongside to provide aid. Other translations include “comforter,” “consoler,” “helper,” even “intercessor.” Jesus clarifies that this is the Holy Spirit– “the Spirit of truth.”
I was on a Zoom call with college buddies this past weekend. One of the seven friends was visiting her 99-year-old father. Another has parents in their early 80’s. “I’m an orphan,” another person said, “Who else is an orphan?” he asked, and five of us raised our hands. It speaks to the significance of having no living parents that people who are self-sufficient upper-middle-aged adults will use that word about themselves. We are orphans. That our parents are dead is significant, it matters, it affects how we see ourselves in the world (and in our family systems).
Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned.” He says this to a roomful of his closest friends and followers, all of whom (I assume) are also adults. The word translated “orphaned” has an original meaning of “bereaved,” which is why I think it resonates for adults (even though, culturally, we tend to associate it with children). The King James Version translates it “comfortless.”
Jesus adds, “I am coming to you, and goes on to describe his presence among his friends and followers as something that will be visible to them, though not to those “in the world.” Jesus uses this expression often in this gospel when contrasting the life of faith/ relationship with him with the life of those who do not experience that relationship.
Jesus also uses “the world” to describe God’s intentions for salvation: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). It seems to be God’s intention that the world will know the comforting presence of the Spirit, who reveals Jesus’ love and presence. They will also know the love and the presence of the Father: they will not be orphans.
What are your plans for preaching?
Will you be sojourning with “mansplainy, praying Jesus”– whom I also would describe as comforting, encouraging Jesus–this Sunday?
Which of the main images in the text call to you?
Advocate? (Or, if not Advocate, one of the alternate translations of Paraclete?)
I look forward to your thoughts on this passage (or on any of the others on offer for Easter 6 A in the RCL!). Please join us in the comments!
Blessings to you, in the study, in the composing, in the preaching, and in the gathering of community, however you are doing it this week.
Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is currently observing “Pause NY” at home with her beloved partner and daughter, and praying like mad for her son, hunkered down in a COVID-19 hotspot. Her love for reading, writing, film, and good television is proving useful at this time. A native of the Jersey shore, and in love with the New England coastline, she prays she’ll be able to see the ocean this year.