Tuesday

22 August 2017

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (v. 26)

Psalm: Psalm 66


Background

In this passage Jesus continued to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection, when he would no longer be with them physically. You may already know that the word that Jesus uses here, which is translated 'Advocate,' was often used in ancient law courts. The Greek word is 'paraclete' and it meant someone who spoke up on your behalf, if you were involved in a legal case. Some people find this association difficult and have argued that the word should be translated 'Comforter' or 'Counsellor', to give us a better image of the work of the Spirit. We naturally tend to think that if this is a legal word, the Spirit would act like a solicitor or barrister does today - but the ancient world did not have such a developed legal profession as we do.

Most people in the Roman Empire would have been involved in the patronage system. In general, a patron would be someone more powerful and wealthy than you who offered you support in various aspects of life in return for various services. This was a more personal relationship than it might appear to us - in some ways you would be regarded as being part of the patron's extended family. One of the key areas of support that a patron offered was to be your paraclete in court. So, whereas we might read 'paraclete' as being a professional relationship, the people who originally read John's Gospel probably thought of something much more personal, which extended outside of the court situation.

The idea that the Spirit will be our 'Advocate' is therefore closely linked with the opening of this passage, where Jesus says "I will not leave you orphaned". In verse 18 Jesus was using an image which others had used for those who were left behind by a teacher, leaving the disciples bereft. Perhaps the power of the image gives us an insight into how difficult a transition those first disciples faced and how crucial this promise of the Spirit was for them.


To Ponder

  • Advocate/ Counsellor/Comforter - which image or word for the Holy Spirit do you find most helpful and why?
  • If you were one of Jesus' disciples, about to be orphaned, what would you be most worried about?
  • What would you find most helpful in what Jesus says here?


Bible notes author:  The Revd Judith Rossall

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