Today’s reading is John 16:1-15 (NIV):
1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment:9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness,because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer;11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
The last two weeks have been hard: an overwhelming pile of work, the awful weather (Snow on the first of April! Worst non-April Fools’ joke ever!), and just a lot of personal doubts. I don’t know about you, but this been a challenging season for me.
And in the midst of it, God promises to send the Holy Spirit to comfort and to encourage us. In this passage of John 16, the apostles are distraught that Jesus keeps reminding them of his leaving. He has already announced to those around him that he will soon leave them to be with the Father (John 8:21, 14:1-14), and he has comforted them in the past saying that he will come back after preparing the rooms in His Father’s house (John 14:2-3). He even gives them his peace, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27c). But the apostles continue to grieve his eventual departure and for selfish reasons; as Jesus points out, they don’t care where he is going, only that he will no longer be with them.
Isn’t that completely understandable, though? With a dear teacher and friend leaving, wouldn’t you also be sad, scared, and confused? What in retrospect is clear, but must have been hard for the disciples to fathom at the time, is that the beauty of Jesus’ leaving lies in the fact that he is able to give us more of himself when he goes away. The Spirit “will receive [from Jesus] what he will make known to you” (John 16:14) and minister in Jesus’ stead, which can only happen if Jesus returns to the Father. Whereas Jesus, in human form, can only be in one place at a time, the Holy Spirit is everywhere, at any time. Wherever we go, the Spirit resides in our bodies and constantly leads us and watches over us. The Advocate whom Jesus sends is the greatest gift we can ever receive: a mouthpiece of God’s constant guidance and truth wherever we go.
Despite the approximately two thousand years of perspective that we have, however, we, like the disciples, aren’t able to see the bigger picture in our littleness. A dear friend told me recently about controlled burning, also known as prescribed burning. This technique is sometimes used in forest management and farming in order to reduce fuel buildup, decrease the likelihood of serious and hotter fires, and best of all, reveal the soil mineral layers that renew the forest’s vitality. Basically, parts of the forest sometimes need to be burned down in order to expose the nutrients that have been growing underneath, and only then can the forest keep growing to produce rich, healthy, and diverse fruit. I wonder if the Holy Spirit is like that controlled fire. He blazes away the parts of us that are dead and have hardened into rocks, so that the work He is doing inside of us can be revealed for God’s glory.
May we all ask for the courage to go through the heat of the Holy Fire so that we can draw nearer to God and bask in the overwhelming fullness of His being.
Anna Lee, March ’20, is a Sophomore in Mather House studying Comparative Literature.