The Sixth Sunday of Easter – 17 May 2020
Lectionary Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20; 1 Pet 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
Theme: The Promise of the Holy Spirit
Today’s gospel is part of the extended Last Supper discourse of Jesus in John 14-17. This discourse is not meant to be a verbatim report of what Jesus said on a particular occasion but is rather a post-resurrectional meditation on some of the deep implications of faith in Jesus as the Risen Christ. The gospel passage for today promises the disciples that they will not be left alone after his death. They will be accompanied by, in the Greek text, the parakleton (John 14:16).
Most English versions translate parakleton as “Advocate”, meaning legal counsel or attorney. The anglicized form “paraclete” also carries the meanings of intercessor, helper, protector, supporter or counsellor, and a few English versions use “Helper” or “Counselor” in John 14:16. The King James Version uses “Comforter”. It was written at a time (17th century) when “comfort” was closer to its Latin roots than it is today. Latin confortare means to give strength to, so in KJV the Comforter is one who strengthens, encourages and urges on, rather than one who soothes and consoles. Parakleton has such a wide range of meanings that some scholars recommend that it not be translated at all but that paraclete be capitalized and used as a proper name for the Holy Spirit, with whom it is equated a little further on in John, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send…” (John 14:26).
The Holy Spirit is sometimes thought of as a Christian way of speaking about God in a trinitarian context. But Jewish scholar Marc Bregman points out that Ruah Ha-Qodesh, “the spirit of the Holy [One]”is found in the Hebrew Bible, e.g. “Do not … take Your holy spirit away from me” (Ps 51:13 Tanakh). There are numerous references in rabbinic literature, as in Sifrei Devarim, “the holy spirit has been placed in the mouth of the prophets” (S. Devarim176). In spite of the tradition that the Holy Spirit departed from Israel with the last of the prophets, for many rabbinic authors the Ruah Ha-Qodesh continued to operate, e.g. “As soon as Rabbi Meir saw them, he saw by means of the Holy Spirit [what had happened] …” (Leviticus Rabbah9:9). For some, the Bat Kol (“Heavenly Voice”) had taken its place (Bregman, 7-9).
Another Jewish scholar who has done very detailed research on the role of the Holy Spirit in Judaism is Julie Danan. She comes to somewhat similar conclusions, viz. that the Ruah ha-Kodesh “has never really been silenced. It has just taken on new forms, in which it continues to communicate and interact with and through human beings” (Danan, 249). The Paraclete is very much with us, just as Jesus promised.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. In what ways has your understanding of Ruah Ha-Qodesh in Judaism enriched your understanding of the Holy Spirit? 2. Have you had any experience of “seeing” something by means of the Holy Spirit? If so, share that with others.
Bibliography: Bregman, M. Ruah Ha-Qodesh (“The Holy Spirit”) in Rabbinic Literature (Unpublished); Danan, J.H. The Divine Voice in Scripture: Ruah ha-Kodesh in Rabbinic Literature, The University of Texas Dissertation(2006), https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/