How much can you bear?
“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.....”
The three leaf clover, the Fleur-de-Lys and the other visual representations of the Trinity of God are traditionally used to show the faithful who (or more usually, what) the Holy Trinity is. In practice the diagrams and patterns declare something unmoving and eternal. Jesus' words, in the small snippet of his farewell discourse chosen for this Sunday’s Gospel reading, tell quite a different story and describe what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit actually do. Jesus says there is a wellspring of love and information in the Trinity of God.
The Father has given all to the Son
The Spirit takes what belongs to the Son
and declares it to us on the world’s behalf.
We might be forgiven for believing that the Spirit merely reinforces what is already in the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels. Is the Holy Spirit a sort of active, living index which points the Church back to what she already knows but has perhaps forgotten or failed to apply? Does the Holy Spirit have a Bible in its hand? That was what I was always led to believe, anyway.
Maybe we should expect to hear timeless truths in Church. We have a Communion Service based on very old antecedents. The Mass is the Mass is the Mass. It warms our hearts to hear the Bible read sometimes in traditional translation. We refer to our hymns sometimes as the Old One Hundredth, we even sing about being asking to be told “…the old, old story” but Jesus promises his disciples here that the Holy Spirit will shepherd them into novel territory. Frankly, I can see little in the passage to indicate that the content of what the Spirit will proclaim will limit itself slavishly to what is already there in the parables, the controversies, the public discourses of Jesus or the private teaching between the Master and his disciples. The disciples had heard all of that and had profited from the private teaching during his ministry and in the days between Easter and Pentecost to clear up what they had not yet understood. In our reading this Sunday at the end of a longer passage Jesus says explicitly that he has other things to tell them which, at that moment, they could not bear to hear. “The Spirit of truth…will guide you”
We should at least be curious about what he meant.
There is enough material in the Acts of the Apostles to give us a hint of how the Jerusalem Church, Peter and the other Apostles along with the newcomers Paul and Barnabas and a small army of deacon/evangelists sent to the Samaritan and Greek cities were privileged to express in new and changing times and places not only what the Gospel said but what it meant as well. In so doing they disagreed which each other – sometimes quite vociferously. Following the Spirit of God into truths which a previous generation or even our younger self could not possibly bear courts a certain degree of risk.
It sails very close to the wind.