John 14:8-17 (NRSV)
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
I’m not the kind of person who takes instruction easily. That might be an understatement… I have an issue with authority (is that more accurate Mum?) I don’t like to be told what to do, particularly when I don’t understand the command. I like to know whyI’m doing something, I like to have as much insight as I can; I like to see the big picture. This is why I feel terrible for Phillip in this passage. He just wants to understand what Jesus is up to. “Can’t you give me any more information, Jesus? Can’t you tell me in plain [English] what you’re asking me to do? Can’t you tell me why?”
‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’. This makes me think of that classic movie scene where a parent is trying to protect a child, and tells them to hide in a corner or a cupboard or under the bed while Mum or Dad fights the bad guys. You can picture it, can’t you? The terror in the parent’s eyes, the frantic whisper that desperately asks the child to “just stay here, be real quiet, I’ll be back soon”. The parent does not have the time to explain fully – they have Grown Up work to do. Even if they did, any explanation would likely make the child more upset and confused.
The parent knows best in this scenario, and I understand (in theory) that people in authority occasionally know what’s best, too. However, in practice I simply cannot justify saying “yes, sir” without understanding what I’m signing up to.
We could do with more dissenters in our world today. We need more people who refuse to accept the status quo just because someone decided this is the way we do things. But we also must recognise the frantic whisper that says ‘do what I say – trust me’.
If I trust the source of the instruction, I’m more likely to obey. (It’s not a guarantee, just more likely). Perhaps Phillip is able to acknowledge his frustration but not act on it, because he trusts Jesus. He knows Jesus hasn’t steered him wrong before. Maybe he’s able to let go of his control, bite his tongue which is ready to let the questions and protests fly, and simply allow himself to trust. Phillip wants more information, more proof that Jesus knows what he’s doing. And understandably, Jesus is exasperated. “If I’ve told you once, Phillip, I’ve told you a thousand times” I AM God – you’ve SEEN God when you’ve seen me!”
The idea that we should blindly believe, that we should have the unquestioning faith of a child (which doesn’t exist – kids don’t accept things just because you tell them to) is a dangerous idea used by an oppressive church to prevent dissention – to stop people from thinking for themselves. The ‘if you love me you’ll keep my commandments’ line is not supposed to be Jesus guilt tripping us into nodding our heads and silencing our questions. It is an assurance that things might not be clear now, but they will become clear.
In fact, we have a Helper – an Advocate for our struggles and our requests. It strikes me that unity is vital, however. When Jesus says ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name’ I think he must be speaking to the Global Church, imploring us to be united in our wishes. If we were to unify and come to God as a community with a list of well-thought out requests, based on the heart cries of our society’s outcasts, misfits, and oppressed, what incredible changes we might see.
If we are connected to the Holy Spirit – if we are tapped into God’s mission of the renewal of all things – we will raise Holy Hell. We will listen to the people for whom our systems – both religious and political – are not working, and we will go to God with our list of requests. Then we’ll say, as one voice, “we trust you to lead us – now use us to bring about the renewal of all things, for all people.”
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). She recently returned to Ireland after working in New York and studying in Edinburgh.