The Gospel of St. John Chapter 14

September 04, 2016

The Gospel of St. John Chapter 14 is a remarkable historical document.

Herein Jesus of Nazareth speaks plainly; no holds barred, nothing held back; and he takes pains to explain to his disciples about his and their futures; on earth and in heaven.

The important things he says in John 14 are:

  1. God the Father, and he himself, are at-one
  2. What God wants he is ever-doing
  3. His disciples know the way to where he is going
  4. He himself is that way (and the truth and the life)
  5. He will do whatever the disciples ask in his name
  6. He tells his disciples what is going to happen to him and them soon
  7. And that when what he tells them happens they will then believe all these words of his
  8. When he has gone away, then God the Father will send an Advocate to his disciples
  9. This Advocate is The Holy Spirit
  10. The Advocate will teach the disciples all things and remind them of all Jesus’ words
  11. That everyone who believes in Jesus and loves him will share in all these gifts given by him to the disciples To a person who finds it hard to believe in Jesus this sounds like a lot of nonsense. I knew a fellow once, who was not a follower of Jesus, and whom I worked alongside as a colleague, who would call passages of this kind in St John’s Gospel ‘Johannine twaddle’.

There’s a great gulf between those who follow Jesus and so who understand sympathetically what he is telling his disciples here in Chapter 14 of St John’s Gospel; and those who are not followers of Jesus and so who have no time for these words and ideas of his here.  To be fair, people who do not follow Jesus may not necessarily be hostile or antipathetic to these ideas; but instead some of them find the credibility of the ideas too overstrained; and so the necessary credulousness to believe them they find lacking within themselves.

Yet to a follower of Jesus these words are worth more than The Federal Reserve, or The Works of Shakespeare, or even sometimes the bread on their tables.

The gulf is unutterably deep and wide.

Yet some people become followers of Jesus, as I myself did, from having been a sceptic and a person outside the fold.  This change, from outsider to insider, non-follower to follower, is a great mystery; how it happens is not easy to understand; for a person to change so radically, so utterly, so fundamentally; so as to accept and understand and treasure words like those in John 14, where once not long beforehand they were felt to be forever a closed book, and there to be no chance of that changing.

In fact such an intractable problem raises for me in contemplating this situation; that I feel maybe it is futile and beyond my powers an for me to carry on writing about these words of Jesus and what they say and mean; that I shall only at best be able to ‘preach to the converted’ about them as the saying goes.

Even so, if I reach only those who already follow Jesus, and I manage with some of them to make their understanding or feelings a bit more solid, and at the same time not offend any other follower; I guess that is more than enough to have been a party to doing?  This prospect encourages me.

Everyone who is a follower of Jesus I think would agree that their life experience of following him tallies pretty well with the words he says here and with what they mean to his disciples and his followers generally.  I would also say that the more one thinks and tries to move forward in life as a Christian; then the more and the more deeply one sees into and feels the strong power and the importance of these words of his for the world.

With this comes a sense of wonder; wonder that Jesus was able to see into things in this way, at a time before The Advocate had come to men and women, via his fulfilment of his mission through the passion and the resurrection and the ascension.

One’s astonishment at this prescience of his, this foreknowledge; not just of how his mission was to end and to transpire; but of the existential experience of being a Christian and follower of his, of how this being a follower was to work out and to develop and to draw people in and along in their journeys as Christians through their lives

Such astonishment and mystery; at having great s laid out for one about oneself before even oneself has considered or got to grips with one iota of it; redounds upon a person, working on a person as incontrovertible evidence, that here indeed is The Christ, The Anointed One, Emmanuel. How else could Jesus of Nazareth known such things?  How else might such things, such knowledge, have arisen on earth?

Their ideas and depth and scope and validity and their magnetism seem not to be of the world; seem to be unable to be introduced into the world via worldly, earthly or naturally-knowable means.

And this sense of certainty these ideas bear and convey to one who is a Christian; about the divinity of Jesus; about the accuracy of his words and their panning out in Christian lives; about the utter solid connection with him as a figure in such lives; and about what faithfulness they forge in a such minds; effectually seems unshakeable; more real and certain than the sights and sounds and the objects and facts that happen daily around us.

The Spirit Jesus says he is to send is The Advocate, which is elsewhere translated as The Comforter in certain Bibles. One is able to see why The Advocate is also known as The Comforter, when such solidity and such assurance is allowed to one as a stay, a foundation, a surety for one’s life.  One is able to understand and utterly to go with the sentiment Feodor Dostoyevsky made, who was author of ‘Crime and Punishment’, the perhaps greatest of Russian novels. He said: ‘If it could be shown in any way that Jesus Christ is not the truth; I think I would prefer to stay with Jesus’. That is how wholly Jesus embraces a person.

The requirements Jesus stipulates are two: to do what he teaches a person to do; and to love him. The two stipulations are inseparable. One of them cannot survive without the other one. And thus ‘anything a person asks in his name’ will be done for them by him. Nothing unworthy of his doing is able to be asked of him by a Christian who at the time of asking is a) following his word and b) loving him.

So it’s not sweetshop time, not in any way.  And Jesus’ two stipulations match exactly the stipulations of the first two Commandments; those two Commandments which Jesus says elsewhere comprise ‘all the law’ within their bounds.

These two Commandments are: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' These two Commandments comprise all Jesus’ teaching.  Since he and God his Father are at-one; it follows that to love Jesus is to love God; and that to ask in a spirit of love for something from Jesus, is loving one’s neighbour; because asking in a spirit of love means not asking for the sake of oneself or to one’s own benefit, but instead asking in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching, which is all carried in the first two Commandments.

The cakewalk as a Christian one necessarily has to manoeuvre oneself through concerns the resurrection and ascension; most Christians have little problem believing the crucifixion; but the resurrection and ascension in our age do pose hurdles for Christians finding faith to believe them.  But it is the strength and power and accuracy and directness and completeness and forthrightness and bedrock truth of the sayings said by Jesus; as in Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel for instance, and of how these sayings tally so truly with every Christians’ experience of living in the Christian faith; which lend their powerful strength and validity to those parts of the Gospel we find today so difficult to reconcile with what we know of science and nature and history.

That great egoist Napoleon Bonaparte, who would have had himself master of Europe and beyond; a man who knew men and how to motivate and manipulate them; he himself gave his verdict on Jesus; and confessed in perplexity and defeat: ‘“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.” The nature of Christ’s existence is mysterious, I admit; but this mystery meets the wants of man. Reject it and the world is an inexplicable riddle; believe it, and the history of our race is satisfactorily explained. I know men, and I tell you that Jesus is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions, that resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and other religions, the distance of infinity.” I have elsewhere written about Pontius Pilate, that procurator of Judea upon whom the lot of history fell by him having to condemn Jesus to crucifixion; I wrote how he too like Napoleon was, in the presence of Jesus the Christ, thrown into a confusion and an inability to keep control, of the situation of the trial of Jesus, and also of his own judgement and high office.

These perturbations are the universal effects of confrontation of oneself by Jesus. The fact of Jesus; historically, and existentially, is too big to be contained in men and women’s broadest estimations. A person who recognises this is the case is compelled by natural and teleological realities to accept him as that figure whom he claims himself to be; because a person thus confronted is confronted simultaneously with his or her own insufficiency to themself (and of course when they set themselves beside Jesus, they find themselves wholly insufficient beside him also)

Thus Jesus of Nazareth claims our absolute devotion and service; which in its turn is the only true liberation for men and women’s spirits; and the only life worthwhile.

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