Translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 16: 1
(Jesus said) I have said these things to you so that your trust in me may not be tripped up. For they will make you synagogue – rejects; yes, the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a service. And they will do these things because they have no knowledge of the father or me. But I’ve said these things to you, so that when their hour comes, you can remember that I told you.
I did not tell you these things from the beginning because I was with you. Now I am going to the one who sent me and none of you asks me “Where are you going?” But because I have spoken them to you, grief has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I’m telling you the truth, it’s good for you that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Defender will not come to you. Yet if I go, I will send him to you.
When he comes he will correct the world about sin and about who is in the right, and about God’s judgement: about sin, because they have not put their trust in me; about who is in the right, because I am going to the father and you will see me no longer; and about God’s judgement, because the ruler of this world will have been condemned.
I have still many things to tell you, but you can’t cope with them now. When the spirit of reality comes he will lead you into complete reality, for he will not speak from his own authority, but he will speak whatever he hears and will announce to you what is to come. He will honour me, for he will take from what is mine and announce it to you. Everything the father has is mine; that’s why I said the spirit will take from “what is mine” and announce it to you.
Back in the 1960’s Herbert Marcuse wrote a popular book entitled “One Dimensional Man” in which he set out his conviction that global capitalism was creating a society shorn of all forms of transcendence – religion, art, philosophy, nature and politics were all being reduced to forms which could be included in the all-embracing canopy of liberal capitalism. This meant that in public consciousness there was no longer any viewpoint from which the existing world could be viewed critically, or an alternative world imagined.
John’s Gospel provides such a viewpoint, which turns out to be the death and resurrection of Jesus, from which the experienced universe appears as “the world”, that is, as a one- dimensional entity closed to God and to any human being like Jesus who challenges its empire. Jesus’ deeds and words according to the author, are “aletheia”, usually translated “truth” but literally meaning “un-concealment, un-veiling” that is, they strip away lies and give access to reality. Jesus’ insistence that God’s reality is not part of power structure of the Roman Empire or of the Jewish religion, but is represented by a powerless healer proves to be a trip wire (skandalon) for the powerful who combine to kill him. Their successful violence may be a trip wire (skandalon) for the faith of his disciples. Jesus therefore prepares them for his apparent defeat and the threat to their own reputation and safety.
Like Jesus, the defender spirit offers “aletheia”, reality in the midst of the concealments of worldly power. This spirit is “sent” by Jesus, meaning he represents the cause of Jesus just as Jesus represents the cause of God. In fact, the spirit substitutes for the physical presence of Jesus in the world, inspiring his disciples to become that presence in their communities. In this way, Jesus’ horrific death at the hands of worldly powers can be ironically yet accurately be called, “going to the father” and can be seen as something that is good for his disciples. Precisely at the point of powerlessness, Jesus’ transcends the single dimension of worldly power; his cross is a singularity like the Big Bang, the moment of creation.
This complete reversal of worldly values proves the ideology of its powers completely mistaken: they make him out to be a sinner, but real sinners are people who reject Jesus; they think they are in the right vis a vis Jesus, but he is the one united with God; they imagine they have passed judgement on him, but his death in love for the world condemns the power that killed him.
The realm of reality is not easy for people used to one dimensional living (“humankind cannot bear much reality” T S Eliot), but Jesus promises that the spirit can lead even reluctant disciples into ultimate reality, because the spirit “announces” the reality of Jesus, which is the reality of the father.
This astonishing theology, expressed in such direct and passionate language, not only sets believers against worldly powers but gives them the means to overcome it. As the first letter of John says, “This is the victory which overcomes the world: our faith.” Wherever and whenever worldly powers strive to conceal the reality of God and goodness and to corral humanity in the single dimension of their empire, the followers of Jesus should be able to expose the lies and reveal reality, in the power of the defending spirit, in the name of Jesus, for the honour of God.