Jesus said: “Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
Here Jesus sounds more like a visitor than someone who took on our nature and became one of us forever. ‘It is to your advantage that I go away.” We have to try to understand how it is to our advantage. “If I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you,” he added. Rather than clarifying it, however, this makes it more obscure. How could ‘the continued presence of Jesus’ (which is what the Advocate or Paraclete means in John’s gospel) hinder the coming of the Spirit, the Paraclete?
In John’s gospel, the Paraclete is the continued presence of Jesus. Henceforth it is through the Spirit that we know Jesus. The Spirit, the ‘Advocate’, he said, “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). Jesus is withdrawing his visible presence, but his Spirit remains with us.
“It is to your advantage that I go away,” he said. How is it an advantage? If we assemble a few ordinary experiences we may find an approach to it.
Every teacher, sooner or later, has to stand back. If a teacher stays at your side forever, there are important things you never learn: independence, mental courage, an inner vigour that can only come from taking your own risks…. In other words, you have to learn from your own experience, and that is what a good teacher always sends you back to in the end. Parents, too, have to learn to stand back. The children of parents with very strong personalities are often passive and weak. Whenever you see a powerful leader, look at what his leadership is doing to his followers. He may think he is “strengthening the brethren,” but this is exactly the blind spot of an extravert. Jesus has the wisdom to trust us, even though we make mistakes. He wants to inspire us from within, not to control us from without.
This Spirit, Jesus said, “will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Richard Rohr’s comment on this: “What you thought was sin was only your own guilt, what you thought was righteousness was self-righteousness, what you thought was justice was only your instinct for vengeance.” These distinctions can only be learned from the inside.
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