The New Testament writers faced a problem when they tried to describe Christian life after the resurrection. They wrote for an audience who were experiencing the risen Christ still at work. Nevertheless, each author had to acknowledge that, at some point, the risen Christ had stopped appearing in the flesh to his disciples. Their efforts to explain this contradiction produced some of the richest early Christian theology.
‘We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.’ (Jn 14:23)
How has divine love guided your life?
How have your own acts of love helped you encounter divine love?
This was no academic exercise. Christ’s disciples had taken on his mission, and with it the hostility directed against it. In addition, Jesus’ message challenged their understanding. The presence was mysterious. Mark’s Gospel reports it with no explanation: “The Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mk 16:20). Matthew and Luke go further and attribute this unseen presence to the Spirit (Mt 10:20; Acts 1:8), as does Paul (1 Cor 2:12-13), who also terms it “grace” (2 Cor 12:9) and “power” (Phil 3:10). These are just some of the terms New Testament authors gave to the mysterious reality that filled Christians with courage and wisdom.
Contemporaneous religious communities had more specific ideas about the unseen powers that influenced them. Members of certain Jewish sects spoke of angels guiding and strengthening believers. Romans understood each individual to have a genius, a guardian spirit that led each person through life. Some Greek authors spoke of something similar, a daimon. The daimons conferred supernatural abilities on heroes and divine wisdom on philosophers.
The Evangelist’s discussion of the “Advocate” in this Sunday’s Gospel reflects something from all these traditions. Like other early Christian writers, John understands Jesus to remain at work among his disciples. But unlike those other writers, John attempts to peer through the mystery. John’s Advocate is much more than an angel or Greco-Roman demigod, however. The Advocate is nothing less than the Father’s love. Of all the Father’s attributes, love is the one that can communicate the divine nature perfectly. An encounter with divine love is an encounter with God’s own self, and the Advocate is thus a personification of that divine love.
Throughout his Gospel, John had been careful to trace Jesus’ relationship to the Father’s love. God’s love for a perishing humanity initiated salvation history (Jn 3:16), and Jesus’ love for his disciples brought that history to its culmination (Jn 15:13-17). In every miracle Jesus gave a sign of divine love; and in every Gospel command, Jesus offered a way to conform one’s life to love’s example.
Gospel love makes God present. As the first disciples trusted in the Advocate, they found a love that gave peace to their hearts. In this peace, they continued to serve Christ’s mission even in the face of hostility, and thus came themselves to embody God’s love for others. Just so, Christians today will find in divine love everything they need for the world’s salvation. In every word of the Gospel they can encounter Christ’s peace once more, and in every loving deed they will reveal that Christ continues to visit the world with saving power.