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Our reading for today (John 14:16-20) prepares us to celebrate Pentecost in two weeks’ time. Jesus teaches about Holy Spirit who will come and continue his work among us. We learn several important things about Holy Spirit from this brief passage, including:
- The Greek word ‘paraclete’ is directly translated as ‘the one called alongside’ or ‘the one called to come alongside’
- ‘Paraclete’ is translated in various ways: comforter, counsellor, advocate, encourager, etc.
- Frederick Dale Bruner (in his commentary on John) and Eugene Peterson (in his Bible translation, ‘The Message‘) translate paraclete as ‘friend’ or ‘true friend‘. A friend is one who draws alongside us, who comforts and encourages us, who challenges us, and who stands up (or advocates) for us when people trash-talk us.
- Jesus describes this true friend as a gift from God to us.
- Jesus describes Holy Spirit as another friend. By implication, Jesus is the disciples current friend; Holy Spirit will come as another friend. There is continuity between Jesus and Holy Spirit.
- Holy Spirit is a person, not a force or a thing. I try to give practical expression to this in my spiritual life in three main ways:
- I drop the definite article ‘the’ from ‘the Holy Spirit’. Instead, I speak and think about ‘Holy Spirit’ as a name, like Jesus is a name. We don’t refer to Jesus as ‘the Jesus’ because Jesus is his name; we say ‘the Messiah’ because Messiah is a title of description. I use ‘Holy Spirit’ as a name, since we have no other name for him.
- I use personal pronouns and avoid ever referring to Holy Spirit as ‘it’ or using ‘which’. These are impersonal, depersonalised words. I try to use the same words I use when speaking about Jesus or God the Father.
- I refer to Holy Spirit as ‘she’. Not because I think of her as a woman, as female or as feminine. But because God is no more male than God is female. God transcends or incorporates all genders. Since we can’t refer (easily) to the Father or the Son with female pronouns, I choose to use female pronouns for Holy Spirit. If we could evolve the English language to be less gendered, we’d use gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language for God. (I appreciate that many will not appreciate or agree with me. That’s fine. We will learn a lot more about Holy Spirit on That Day.)
- We, unlike those who do not believe, can both see and know Holy Spirit. For everyone else, Spirit is invisible and unknowable. But for us who believe, she can be both seen and known. She dwells within each of us as individuals. And she takes up residence among us collectively, as communities of faith. We are united by Spirit, even when we are physically apart.
As we journey closer to Pentecost on 31 May 2020, let become increasingly mindful or receptive to the presence of Holy Spirit in our personal and collective lives and celebrate this precious gift that God has given us.
Featured image: ‘Holy Spirit’ by Danny Hahlbohm, http://www.inspired-art.com/gallery_9_10/Holy_Spirit.html