John 16:4-33 contains the final teachings, directions and promises recorded by St. John given to Jesus’ disciples before his great prayer in chapter 17 and before his suffering and death in chapters 18-19.
Jesus repeats several things in this passage of Scripture, making it clear to his followers that these are the primary realities to keep in mind when great affliction occurs. First, even though they will go through a period when it seems they are left alone, they will not be alone: the Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, will come (vs. 7, 13); and also, they will “see” Jesus again, in just “a little while” (vs. 16, 20, 25). In fact, they can be certain they are not alone because Jesus himself, soon to experience apparent abandonment, will not be alone (v.32). Jesus desires very much that his friends enter into and hold onto the same assurance he himself has in relationship with the Father (vs. 23, 33).
Second, joy will be a characteristic of their lives: “…your sorrow will turn into joy” (vs. 20-22). Furthermore, this joy is something they will surely receive, if only they will ask for it in the name of Jesus (v. 24).
Third, the Father and Jesus and the Spirit of Truth all act together as One in perfect love and harmony of purpose, in order to reveal the truth about God and man (vs. 8-11); and for the sake of joy, even fullness of joy (vs. 7, 13, 15, 23, 26, 27).
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What Jesus teaches about the Counselor in chapter 16 reemphasizes what he taught in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Ignatius Study Guide has some important notes concerning this great promise, which has been largely misunderstood during the past five centuries marked by a proliferation of protestant denominations; in fact, it is a misunderstanding that has contributed largely to that unbridled proliferation of what the Catholic Church refers to as communities of separated brethren.
The ISG says, “(The Spirit is) sent from heaven to complete the teaching ministry of Jesus and give the apostles an accurate understanding of the gospel (John 16:12-13). The Spirit also works through the sacraments to renew the world with the graces and blessings that Christ died to give us (3:5, 6:63, 20:22-23) (CCC 243, 729)….The terms you and your (v. 16:13) in this verse are plural. It is thus a promise to guide and instruct the ordained leaders of the Church, here represented by the eleven apostles. It is not a promise that the Spirit will grant every individual Christian supernatural insight into the full meaning of the gospel or the Scriptures (II Peter 1:20-21)…..the Spirit continues the teaching mission of Jesus to bear witness to the truth (8:31-32, 18:37, CCC 687). Vatican II outlined the doctrine of magisterial infallibility, meaning that the pope alone or the pope and the bishops united with him are divinely protected from teaching error when they define matters pertaining to faith and morals (Lumen Gentium 25). The guidance of the Spirit is Christ’s guarantee that the gospel will not be corrupted, distorted or misunderstood by the ordained shepherds of the Church during her earthly pilgrimage (CCC 768, 889-92).”
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Our next Faith On the Ferry first Wednesday group get-together will be September 4, and we will complete our study of John’s gospel when we meet the first Wednesday of October. I hope to begin another Faith On the Ferry study as Advent begins, related to the theme of the Church which the Holy Father will announce this Fall. Meanwhile, try to read and reread chapter 17 of the gospel, and I will have questions and things to ponder on this blog, on a weekly basis throughout August. May the Lord bless you richly throughout the summer, JC