Homily for May 23rd, 2017: John 16:5-11.
“I tell you,” Jesus says, “it is better that I go. For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” What is Jesus really saying? All depends on the meaning of the word “Advocate.” In the original Greek of the New Testament the word is “Paraclete.” In some versions of the Bible it is also translated “Comforter.”
However we translate it – Paraclete, Advocate, or Comforter – it designates the One who makes Jesus present: the Holy Spirit, who takes the place on earth of the glorified Jesus, after he has risen and ascended to heaven to be, once more, with his heavenly Father. “It is better for you that I go,” Jesus says, because it was only when the Spirit had come down on his disciples that they were able fully to understand who Jesus was. The Spirit came upon them quietly, but nonetheless powerfully, when the risen Jesus entered the room where his disciples had gathered, with doors locked “for fear of the Jews,” spoke the Hebrew greeting, “Shalom – Peace be with you,” breathed on them, and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 19-23) The Spirit came dramatically a short time later, at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, in a “mighty driving wind [and] tongues as of fire.” (Acts 2)
Jesus goes on to say that the Spirit “will convict the world in regard to sin.” The sin in question was people’s refusal to believe in Jesus. This has been a theme of John’s gospel from the beginning, where we read: “He came to his own, yet his own did not accept him” (John 1:11); and two chapters later we read: “The light has come into the world, but men preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The Spirit will also convict the world in regard to “righteousness” or justice, by reversing the unjust sentence at Jesus’ trial, which declared him guilty and not God’s Son. Finally the Spirit “will convict the word in regard to sin,” because in Jesus’ resurrection it is Satan who is condemned, and his power over the world crippled.
As he was being stoned to death, the Church’s first martyr, the deacon Stephen, “filled with the Sprit … exclaimed, ‘Look! I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.’” (Acts 7:55f). Down through the centuries since, and continuing today, the Spirit, who is the Lord’s gift, continues to make Jesus, now with his Father in heaven, present to us on earth.