UPDATE: I have realized that the lectionary actually leaves out the first four verses of chapter 16. Sigh. My guess is they wanted to avoid the anti-semitic tones of the verses. But that’s a problem with later readers of the Bible like us, not for the text. Oh, well, it could still be mentioned in a sermon…
An existential analysis of this week’s gospel reading: John 15.26-16.15
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
1. What is the existential concern behind the text? “They will put you out of the synagogues.”
Is it persecution? Survival? Oppression? Being a social outcast? You get the point. While there may be economic and political implications to being cast out of the synagogues, I prefer to put this as an identity concern. It encompasses these tertiary concerns I just mentioned, but it carries with it the added weight of belonging. This social sense of belonging eases the existential crisis by creating a systematic community that produces meaning for life.
Rather than consider Christians vs Jews, it’s better to consider a Jesus movement within Judaism. Where some members of the synagogue are now disenfranchised, this text is offering a new sense of belonging to the “Jesus movement.” Those who have cast out the Jesus followers, will get what’s coming to them, not because they have failed at correct belief and doctrine, but because that have treated the Jesus movement poorly.
Most bible readers will be enthralled with the “Helper” in this passage, as they probably should be. Is it the Holy Spirit in the narrative? Close enough. But again, this is a concept aligning itself as a resolution to an existential concern. And as I am continuing to argue, the existential concern should take precedence in bible-believing communities, ahead of theories of the Holy Spirit or Divine Judgment.
2. How to respond to the existential concern?
It’s not about getting the theology or doctrine correct. Rather, it’s about creating an atmosphere or situation where the human existential crisis cannot rear its ugly head in the concern of identity. I have two suggestions.
First, don’t be the kind of community that marginalizes based upon theological or doctrinal differences. Be accepting of challenges to the status quo, to the dominant understanding of the faith proclaimed within the community. Be aware and open to the fluid nature of identities. So long as the practices of love abound, questions and fluidity can only help the community grow in faith.
Second, be a community who can continually mold itself to offer new senses of belonging to various disenfranchised members of nearby communities. In doing so, theologies and doctrines may take a backseat to a community that is attempting to follow Christ, a community that answers existential concerns with existence rather than with concepts.