“I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.” (CEB)
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, 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.” (ESV)
“I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.” (MSG)
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (NIV)
“These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you. But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.” (ASV)
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 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.” (RSV)
We are now in the season of “Ordinary Time” or “Proper Time” in the Church Year. It is “ordinary” in the sense that the Holy Spirit has been given to do the “proper” ongoing work of growing believers in Christ and helping them live into his directives. The Spirit is our Teacher, cultivating and stirring-up within us all that we need for the Christian life.
As you can see from the various English translations of today’s Gospel verses, there is no uniform rendering of the original Greek word, “Paraclete.” That is because this word for the Spirit is so rich and full that it is difficult to encompass what it means with a single English word.
A straightforward literal translation of “Paraclete” needs a phrase rather than a word: “Called alongside for encouragement,” fairly-well translates the word. All the various words used in the different versions of the New Testament are accurate – yet they merely bring out one dimension to the understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Our needs as followers of Jesus are many – thus requiring a multi-faceted mentoring ministry by the Spirit.
“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.” –Corrie Ten Boom
The Spirit was sent to be with Christians continually as their Teacher, reminding them of all Jesus has said and done as the ultimate witness to Christ’s life and ministry. So, the role of the Holy Spirit is providing aid for Christians, especially in difficult situations; the Spirit helps in a time of need. The force of “Paraclete” is even more than this because there is also the dimension of the Spirit being our close companion, as well. Indeed, it is a special friend who stands up for us, advocates on our behalf, gives us remedial teaching, and brings comfort. In other words, the Holy Spirit is motivated (just like the Father and the Son) with love for us.
Whatever we need, the Holy Spirit is something of a divine concierge in the middle of adversity who is attentive to every need. The true difficulty in describing the Spirit’s ministry with us is that the Spirit is God – and no amount of description will adequately get our minds around the Spirit. God is much too big for that. All metaphors, images, and words fall short of genuinely expressing the Spirit’s immense work.
Perhaps a story will better illustrate the Spirit’s nature and work. When my girls were small and I was a financially struggling seminarian, we were one evening down to our last bit of food. Although they thought it was a privilege to eat Wheaties for supper, my wife and I knew the cupboard was now bare. So, we prayed. As we got up from our knees and started off for bed, there was a knock at our patio back door. We looked at each other wondering who in the world it could be at such a late hour. When I drew the shades, one of our neighbors, a little Puerto Rican woman, was outside holding what appeared to be more than her own body weight in overflowing grocery bags. As I ushered her in and before I could say a word, she said this: “I went to bed and just fallen into a deep sleep. But the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to take as many groceries as I could carry to you. So, here I am.”
In that moment, I knew in my head and felt in my heart a ministry of the Spirit which transcends language. What is more, the next morning our girls learned something about God that they would never get from listening to their Dad’s teaching and preaching. I must also add that this is a story which gets retold often because it reminds us of how God meets us in our need and how much God cares.
Through such encounters with the Spirit (and I have mercifully been granted many of them!) I begin to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the saints throughout the ages:
“When the grace of the Holy Spirit enters a soul and is established there, it gushes forth more powerfully than any other spring; it neither ceases, dries up, nor is exhausted. And the Savior, to signify this inexhaustible gift of grace, calls it a spring and a torrent; He also calls it gushing water, to indicate its force and impetus.” –St. John Chrysostom
May you know the ministry of the Spirit, inside and out, in all ways and in all circumstances.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
That my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
That I love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
To defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
That I always may be holy. Amen.
–A Prayer of St. Augustine