Thoughts on Easter 7A: The Ascension and what Follows

For the NT reading: Acts 1:6-14 

The Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem

The disciples say, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replies, “It is not for you the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Thus, according to St Luke, the risen Christ definitively bans all those ludicrous speculations about the exact dating of God’s final judgement—speculations so beloved of a certain kind of quasi-Christian sect, as well as of those awful Left Behind books and films that had something of a vogue a few years ago. But that does not mean that there are to be no gifts or wonders for the disciples in the days that are coming. Quite the contrary! Our Lord continues, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so the whole great adventure that is the expansion of Christianity is set in motion, that extension of the faith into every corner of the globe over the next two thousand or so years that must surely have seemed so unlikely to anyone who looked merely at the little band of believers with which it began.

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Here Luke deliberately uses the language of Jewish apocalyptic and mystical writing to speak of Jesus’ exaltation, the consummation and completion of his earthly ministry. He is “lifted up”—exalted—and the “cloud” receives him—the “cloud,” speaking, as elsewhere in Luke’s writing and in Scripture as a whole, of the Divine Presence.[1]  But what does all that mean? It means that the destiny toward which Jesus has been moving from the beginning of the gospel, and especially since he set his face to go up to Jerusalem, is now complete. The risen Christ is not merely risen, for his resurrection was but the first stage towards exaltation and divine glory. As the Creed we shall recite in a few minutes makes clear—“he ascended into heaven”—that is an action complete in the past—but he “is seated at the right hand of the Father”—that is present action, now! We have moved from the disciples’ history to our history.

And so what? What is that to us? In the gospel Luke says that the exaltation of Jesus filled the disciples “with great joy” (Luke 24.52). Why? Well, perhaps because they knew that their old friend, their beloved teacher, was all right. God had vindicated him. More to the point then, may be our second question—what is that to us? Why should Jesus’ Ascension be a cause of our joy?

Jesus’ Ascension is and should be a cause of our joy because it is humanity, our humanity, which is in him raised to the right hand of God. It is “flesh”—stuff, sarx, in its weakness and fallibility, that stuff of which the universe is made, and which the Word consented to become, John tells us, at the incarnation (John 1:14)—it is that flesh which is now “is seated at the right hand of the Father”—an expression denoting, of course, not physical location but authority. The Ascension of Jesus is therefore a promise, a sign and a first-fruit of our own destiny and of the universe’s destiny, since it is God’s good pleasure to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ (Col. 1.20 cf. John 12.32 v.l.; Eph. 1.10; Phil 3.21).

To put it another way, Christ’s Ascension reminds us that the risen life, the life of the age to come, is to have a purpose just as this life has a purpose. And that purpose is union with God. We are, as Second Peter puts it, to be “partakers of the divine nature,” perfectly united with the ascended Christ and with each other, beholders of and sharers in the glory which was (according to the Fourth Evangelist) Christ’s before the foundation of the world (John 17.5). Of course we do not yet know what that will mean. Even to speak of it stretches the resources of language to breaking point. We can only hint at it. As St Paul does when he speaks of a coming glory to which the sufferings of this present age are “not worth comparing” (Rom. 8.18). Or St John when he says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3.2)—imagining a vision so glorious that it will transform and transfigure us even as we see it, making us divine. This theosis (divinization) is what many fathers of the church saw as the purpose of the Incarnation: “To make human beings gods,” St Augustine of Hippo said, “He was made man who was God” (Sermons, 192.1.1).

It is in the light of such a hope that we dare open our hearts to the Spirit of God and try to live as Christians—attempting all those lunatic gestures to which the gospel invites us, such as forgiving our enemies, doing good to those who do evil to us, and turning the other cheek. We do not attempt this behaviour because we think it leads to successful lives as the world counts success or because we think it leads to clear consciences. If we did we should be very naïve. Most likely such living leads to a cross if we are good at it; or to a continuing sense of our own guilt and failure if as is more usual we are not: which is, incidentally, one reason why we need the church, that is, a community of fellow-believers who understand what we are trying to do and can help us cope with the daily pain of failing to do it. No, we try to live like this not because it leads to worldly success or peace of mind but because God is like this, forgiving those who do evil and causing gracious rain to fall on just and unjust alike. And we try to be like God because as Christians we know that that is God’s destiny for us and for the universe.

[1] Compare Exod. 24.15-18, Dan. 7.13, Luke 9.34, 21.27-28. The assertion that Jesus was lifted up (epērthē: and similarly Luke 24.51 “he was carried up, anephereto) might be heard as claiming for him a literally physical, upward movement through the heavens, but Luke is using the language and imagery of apocalyptic, as is confirmed by his reference to the “cloud” which, as often in Scripture, signifies the divine presence. It seems Luke expects us to understand this language, just as he evidently expects us to understand it when Peter uses it at much greater length and much more elaborately in his speech at Pentecost – language and imagery which is obviously not intended to be taken literally, since if it were, it would mean that Peter was raving (Acts 2.17-21 citing Joel 3.1-5). If Luke had wanted us to credit the real, physical nature of what he was describing, we can scarcely doubt that he would have spelled it out – just as, in the appearance narratives after the resurrection, he spells out the physicality of the risen Jesus to the point where he has embarrassed commentators from the fathers onwards: the whole point being, however, that in those narratives Luke does want us to take the physicality seriously. Here, however, there is no such elaboration. In contrast to other ascension narratives, both pagan and Jewish, there is not even the mention of an earthly element such as a storm or whirlwind bearing up the exalted one, nor are there other elements of myth, such as horsemen and fiery chariots, nor is there the concern of followers for their master’s fate, such as marked the departure of Elijah (2 Kings 2.16-17). Instead, we have only the simple divine passive – “he was lifted up” – and the apocalyptic “cloud”, the sign of the God’s presence, forming a narrative that Ernst Haenchen in his commentary on Acts understandably characterizes as “almost uncannily austere.”

 

Thoughts on Easter 6A: The Promise of the Paraclete

For the Gospel: John 14:15-21

Christ, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Mural from the catacomb of Commodilla, late 4th century.

Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Prologue

This morning’s gospel continues from where we left off last week. We are still listening to the Evangelist St John. We are still in the upper room at the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples. Last week, you may remember, Jesus was responding to the disciples’ fear and consternation over the fact that he was about to leave them. By way of both encouragement and comfort, Our Lord spoke of himself as the Way to the Father, and of the grace that would come to his disciples through their relationship to him. This week he goes on to speak more specifically of that grace. 

Loving Jesus

“If you love me,” he says, “and if you keep my commandments”—I know that isn’t exactly what the NRSV says, but I think it’s the better reading[1]—“If you love me and keep my commandments… but what does it mean, to “love Jesus”? The Greek word is agapan, the usual New Testament word for “love”, and many scholars and theologians since the 1930s and 40s—and I’m sure you’ve heard preachers doing this too—have insisted on making a pretty hard distinction between that kind of love, the love that the Greek New Testament refers to as agapē, generally defined as “selfless love” or even “Christian love”, and the kind of love which the Greeks in general referred to as erōs, generally associated with need, fondness, ardour and passion, as well, of course, as with sexual attraction. But the fathers of the church—and I’m here thinking particularly of the Greek fathers who, when reading and commenting on the New Testament were, as I used to remind my students from time to time, reading and commenting on texts in their own language and more or less of their own culture, so surely they understood those texts if anyone did!—the fathers of the church saw no such distinction between the two words agapē and erōs, and seem rather to have regarded them as more or less interchangeable. This, of course, at once brings the “loving” God of the New Testament (John 3.16) a whole lot closer to the “passionate” (Heb. qana’: KJV “jealous”) God of the Old (Exod. 20.5). What is more, such a view of agapē /erōs must also profoundly affect what we mean by “love” of neighbour. But neither of those is my point here. My point here is that even when we are talking about our love of God, we are, or ought to be, still talking about what we actually want—about “desire”. Some people seem to think that a good Christian must somehow eliminate desire. But that wasn’t at all the ancient Fathers’ view, nor is it the Bible’s. There’s nothing wrong with our having desires and passions. God created us with them. Our problem is that our desires and passions are too often disordered—our affections are ‘inordinate’ as the Fathers put it. All of which is to say, our problem isn’t that we have desires, but that we desire the wrong thing.[2] When Our Lord invites his disciples and us to love him, he is not therefore inviting us to do away with desire, but rather to begin to school ourselves to desire what is truly desirable—to desire that thing wherein alone “true joys are to be found.” And he’s not asking us merely to try to do this with gritted teeth because it’s the right thing to do (although of course it is), but because Jesus, and all that he stands for, is also what we actually do want at the deepest level of our being—if only we will dare to go deep enough.

The Gift of the Spirit

“If you love me,” Jesus says, “and if you keep my commandments”— which is, interestingly enough, exactly the relationship that the Old Testament says Israel should have to her God!—well then, if you will risk going deeper in this way, Jesus says, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

The Greek word here translated by “advocate” is paraklētos, as I’m sure you’ve been told that many times! And it’s a word that was sometimes used in classical and Hellenistic Greek to refer to what we would call an “advocate,” as in a legal trial. So to that extent the NRSV translation is justified. But Greek paraklētos was associated with a range of meaning far wider and more general than that: “mediator, helper, comforter, intercessor”—those are all ideas associated with paraklētos and its cognates—which is why, since there is no precise equivalent to it in English, I’m not sure the translation tradition isn’t wiser which follows the Latin-speaking Christians of the early church. Their problem was that there wasn’t an equivalent for Greek paraklētos in Latin either. So in the event they simply cut the Gordian knot. They transliterated paraklētos so as to create a new Latin word, “paracletus,” whence the English word “paraclete,” which my old 1959 Oxford English Dictionary recognizes as a perfectly good English word, although my modern Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary doesn’t seem to have heard of it, and wonders if I mean “parakeet”. (The right general idea, but the wrong bird, my friend John Gatta suggests!)

“Mediator, helper, comforter, intercessor”—of course Jesus has been all those things to his disciples, which is why they grieve for his departure. Nevertheless, if they really love him, he says, the Father will send another such “Paraclete” to them, and this Paraclete “will be with you for ever”. This Paraclete, he says, is “the Spirit of truth”

“The Spirit of truth”…what is that? In a writer as biblical in his allusions as the St John, we must surely say that is nothing other than the Spirit that was said to have brooded over the heavens and the earth in the beginning, bringing order out of chaos (Gen. 1:1-2), and which still spills into the world and brings order out of chaos where ever there are hearts and wills open to it. That Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, Who spoke by the prophets—that Spirit, that divine breath, that yearning power, says our Lord, is the One whom God will send to those who love him.

“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.” The world doesn’t receive the Spirit—indeed, can’t receive it—because even though it owes its life and being to the Spirit, still as yet it has no relationship to it and seeks none. Here is fulfilled again the principle that was noted in the Prologue with regard to the Incarnation—“he came to his own, and his own did not receive him” (1:11). But, you may remember the prologue adds, “to those who did receive him, he gave to them authority to become children of God, even to those who believed in his name” (1:12). So likewise the Spirit, being the outpouring of God’s self in love to the world, rejected by many in the world, naturally turns to those who do seek such a relationship, who desire to love back. Their love, though but the pale reflection of God’s love, is a reflection of it none the less, a mark of their being created in God’s image, and therefore precious. So Jesus says to his disciples, already, “you know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” They know and will know the divine presence.

 The Presence of Jesus

But even that is not all: in that presence Jesus himself, the teacher whose departure is grieving them, will also be with them. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, “I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”

Again biblical scholars ask, and have been asking for millennia—does the evangelist understand Our Lord to be speaking of his resurrection appearances? Or to his final appearance in glory? Or perhaps both? Or perhaps to every moment whenever any Christian feels the presence and inspiration of God’s presence in his or her life? Those are questions that we do not need to answer, and perhaps the very fact that we can posit so many different possibilities and remain faithful to our text is evidence enough of the correct answer: we have the promise of Christ’s presence when it matters, and that is all we need to know. It’s as if Jesus says, “Stop fussing and worrying! I’ve got this!” 20”On that day,” he says, “you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” And by “that day” we are surely to understand, as Bishop Westcott put it, “each victorious crisis” of “new apprehension of the risen Christ,” every occasion when, amid life’s temptations and trials, we come to new awareness of Christ’s presence. Our Lord concludes, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.” Active obedience to the wishes of the Beloved is a sure mark of love!

Conclusion

Thus the little snatch of conversation that forms our gospel passage for today comes to an end, more or less where it began: with our love for Christ linked to obedience to his commandments. But then, not quite where it began, because we are now promised that our love for Christ will be matched—and indeed most surely overmatched—by God’s love and self-revelation towards us, in Jesus himself, and through the Spirit, which is the Spirit of Truth—“and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

In that hope, opening our minds and hearts as best we may to the Father’s love, the Spirit’s work, and the Son’s revelation, let us now ascribe to the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and for ever. Amen.

[1] It is supported by both P66 and Sinaiticus.

[2] This is precisely the understanding of desire, and, incidentally, of joy, that undergirds what used to be the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter (Lent 5 in BCP 1979): “O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

Thoughts on Easter 5A: The Way, the Truth, and the Life

For the Gospel: John 14:1-14

The Last Supper by Fritz von Uhde (1886)

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

As our gospel reading for today begins, we are in the upper room with Jesus and his disciples on what it is to be the last night of his earthly life. And three things have just happened—three dreadful things. The first is that Judas, one of the twelve, has just left them and gone out into the night to betray Jesus. Second, Jesus has told the rest of them that he’s about to leave them, and that where he’s going, they can’t come. From now on, it seems, they are to be on their own. Third, Peter has protested at this and said he’s willing to lay down his life for Jesus, so why can’t he come with him? And Jesus in reply and has told Peter that before cock crows he will deny Jesus three times.

So this is not a happy moment. But it’s the moment when our gospel story this morning begins—a moment, surely, of disappointment and even despair. And that’s the moment when Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust in me.”

But how can they trust him? How can they believe in him? He’s just said he’s about to bail out! He continues, “In my Father’s house,” he says, “there are many dwelling-places. If it weren’t so, I would have told you.”

So why is he leaving them? “I am going to prepare a place for you,” he says. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Scholars have been arguing for millennia about what exactly Jesus meant by all this, or even what the evangelist may have thought he meant. What are the “dwelling places”? And when Jesus says he will come again, is he talking about his resurrection appearances or his final coming in glory? I certainly don’t intend to try to answer those questions here. But even without answering them, we can surely see a general message in Jesus’ words that is clear enough. In essence he is telling them, “I know what I am doing. My departure is for a reason.”

“And,” he adds, “you know the way to the place where I am going.”

At which point Thomas, apparently, loses it.

“Lord,” he bursts out, “we don’t even know where you are going! How can we know the way?” We might reasonably flesh out Thomas’ question a little more: “We all know you’re in trouble with the authorities, Lord. By this time tomorrow you could be in a dungeon in Herod’s palace or at the Praetorium, or you could be hanging on a Roman cross. So what’s all this about us knowing the place where you’re going and therefore knowing the way?”

It’s a reasonable question. An honest question! And Jesus always takes reasonable questions seriously. So now he answers Thomas with words that have echoed down the centuries. How can you know the way? “I am the way,” he says, “the truth, and the life.”

“I am.” The Greek here is very precise. There is a pronoun, not required grammatically, which means that it is emphatic. I, in boldface type, so to speak: a choice of expression that requires Thomas to turn his attention from thoughts or doubts or fears about what he may or may not believe to the one certainty, which at that moment is the person standing in front of him, the person of Jesus himself.

I am THE WAY.” The evangelist’s Greek in the predicate is also precise. There is an article before the noun—which is not normal in Greek when a noun follows the verb “to be”. And what that means in this case is that the claim is absolute.[1] Not “I am a way”—I have a cunning plan, chaps, which might work!—but I am THE way—the appointed way, God’s way.

So the question for Thomas, the question for the disciples, the question for each one of us, has suddenly become very simple. “Do you trust me?” Jesus asks. “You want to know the way you should go, the way for life, the way even in death? I am the way.”

My neighbour, a seminarian, has to leave his house at the end of the month, and he doesn’t yet have a job. Now in what I’m about to say I certainly don’t mean to convey that he is being improvident or lackadaisical. He’s pursuing all proper channels, has some good prospects, and also has made sure that there is somewhere for his family to live for a while if the right job doesn’t surface in time. But he and his wife still face their imminent move amid a lot of uncertainty—and face it with impressive calm.

“You are like Abraham, setting out not knowing where he was going,” I said to him on Thursday. (If you want a neighbour who can provide you with a fairly useless biblical quotation to comment on your situation, I am probably your man.)

He smiled gently. “Yes,” he said, “I suppose we are.”

Then I went home and started to prepare this sermon. And I saw why he and his wife are so calm. In many senses, as the world counts knowing, they don’t know where they are going. They can’t see the way ahead. But they do know Christ. And he is their way. The rest is just a matter of details.

“You want to know the truth?” Jesus continues. “I am the truth.”

Not, of course, only truth as accuracy, precious and important though that is. (If we state something as fact, we should try to make sure that it is a real fact—something that some of our politicians seem to have forgotten lately.) But more than that! In a writer as Jewish as our evangelist, we are surely to understand the truth as the Hebrews understood the word emet—the truth you can rely on, the truth you can trust, the truth that will not let you down. There’s only one truth of which we can say that, and it’s the truth of God—which means, not a truth that you can learn and then move on, but truth that once found you must live with for ever, since there is nowhere else to go: truth of the incarnate revelation of the Father, full of grace and truth.

“You seek life?” Jesus says. “Of course you do. Well, I am the life.”

“The life”—and again, the claim is absolute. This is the life behind all life, the life that God gives, the life of the Divine Breath, ruach elohim, the Spirit of God, as moving over the barren waters of chaos, when God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. That light, as St John has already told us in his prologue, is in Jesus the incarnate Word, and that light is the life of humankind.

So—Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

“The way” where?

“The way” to the Father, of course! Our way to the One in Whom all other ends are summed up and fulfilled. He is the way, the true way, the only way, which means—“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now I hope I don’t need to point out that our Lord is NOT here saying, “No one comes to the Father unless they’re a Christian.” That, in fact, is precisely what he is NOT saying. (Can you imagine the one who was remembered as rebuking his disciples when they spoke ill of someone who wasn’t of their group, can you even imagine him saying that? Of course you can’t.) And the fact is, as Bishop Westcott wisely wrote in comment on this very passage, “It does not follow that everyone who is guided by Christ is directly conscious of his guidance.” Exactly. We Christians have the privilege of having the faith, the sacraments, the Scriptures, the creeds—those places and formularies where the guidance of God in Christ is promised. And we will be wise to make use of them! But as a truly catholic Christianity has always pointed out, that doesn’t mean that God is limited to those things. No—what we should hear our Lord saying here is essentially what he says elsewhere in the gospels, “By their fruits you will know them. Wherever you see the fruits of my presence—wherever you see compassion, grace, truth, love, faithfulness—be sure that I am at work, whether I am known by name or not.”

But meanwhile, what of those of us who do have the privilege of knowing who is the One who guides us? “If you know me,” Jesus says, “you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. To know him—again, in a writer so Jewish as the fourth evangelist, we may be sure that the word is used in its full biblical sense. “To know” in the sense of “to acknowledge”—this is the Bible’s word to speak of Israel’s true relationship to God. “You shall know no other God but me,” God says to Israel through the prophet Hosea, and the prophet Jeremiah promises that in the days of God’s new covenant, “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” That promise, Jesus is saying, is fulfilled for those who follow him.

But then Philips says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Heaven only knows what Philip thinks he’s asking for. A vision like Moses at Sinai? An out-of-the-body experience? An altered state of consciousness? Who knows? But notice how Philip has in facts changed the vocabulary. He is not speaking of knowledge, as his Lord spoke—the knowledge that can only come through relationship, commitment. He is talking, literally, of a show. Show us!!

Our Lord responds to what Philip’s has said, but also gently corrects his vocabulary. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” This is about relationship, Philip, not a show and tell!

What Jesus calls us to is a relationship with himself, and with God through him. We are to know him, to know his mind, always seeking the mind of Christ: and if we seek the mind of Christ, then we may be assured that we will be “shown” whatever we need—perhaps it will indeed be like Moses at Sinai, or perhaps it will just be the knowledge of his closeness to us in the daily round, the common task. But either way, or any other way, Our Lord himself assures us, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Our Lord goes on to speak of himself as the Agent of the Father, using the rabbinic concept of the shaliach, or representative, who is in the matter for which he is sent always to be accepted as the One who sent him. “The words that I say to you,” he says, “I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”  Then, finally, Our Lord touches on the power that is given to those who believe in him. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

An extraordinary promise—and yet one amply fulfilled in the history of the Christian church, spread into every nation, to cultures and languages far beyond the conceiving or possibilities even for Our Lord in his incarnation. And yet even that is not the final promise: “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” This promise is not, of course, to be understood in isolation from the conversation that has preceded it.[2] It is not a blank cheque! It is a promise made in the light of all that conversation, which means that is made to us

as believers,

as those who earnestly seek the mind of Christ,

as those who will open their hearts to the Spirit that God is about to send,

for those who seek the mind of Christ and are open to God’s Spirit will be careful never to ask for anything trivial or contrary to God’s will. On the contrary, their prayer will always be the prayer of Our Lady, the perfect model for all disciples, as she cries joyfully, “Behold the Lord’s handmaid. Be it unto me according to thy Word.” Even in moments of stress, grief, or danger, when we may certainly pray for deliverance, still our prayer will be the prayer of Our Lord in Gethsemane—“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

Such prayer, we may be sure, will always be answered. And as God vindicated His Son, we too shall be vindicated by the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to Whom we now ascribe, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

 

[1] One case where the article may be found in the predicate after the verb “to be” is where (as in John 14.6) it indicates an individual or thing identical with the subject, so that the proposition is in fact reversible. We might equally well say, “The way [to the Father] is Christ,” and so on. See Maximilian Zerwick S.J. Biblical Greek (Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1990) § 174.

[2] One might add that it is also not to be understood in isolation from what follows it—that is, the promised gift of the Paraklete, who is to guide us “into all truth.”