6th Sunday of Easter
14th May 2023
The Tax Collectors Office
Pietro Brueghel the Younger
1564 – 1638
Reflection on the painting
The start of our reading packs a punch: ‘If you love me, you will
keep my commandments’. Jesus makes the point that love and
obedience (to God’s commandments) go hand in hand. They are
not contradictory. Love and obedience are two sides of the same
coin. Love and obedience are two dimensions of the same thing.
In today’s society we see law and love being almost opposites.
In fact, it is also a temptation we have when reading the Gospels
that we simply categorise the Pharisees as being the ones strictly
obeying the laws, but not loving; and we see Jesus as being all
pro-love and anti-law. That is a wrong way to look at Jesus. Peter
Kreeft sums it up well: ‘Jesus was anti-legalism, but not anti-law’.
That brings us to the essence of that first verse of today’s
reading, that love is not first of all some fluffy feeling but it is an
active part of our will. Love is a choice! That is why Jesus
commands us to love, because he wants us to will it.
And to make it easier for us to love, Jesus promises us that the
Holy Spirit will help us. The Holy Spirit is the advocate. A very
narrow interpretation of what an advocate is in a legal framework
is portrayed in this painting by Pieter Breughel the Younger. This
composition proved already so popular in Breughel’s time that no
fewer than twenty versions were produced in the artist’s
workshop. We see a village advocate/attorney’s office, with
clients lined up to enlist his services. Humbly the villagers
approach the lawyer’s desk, offering up what they can in terms
of payment: grapes, eggs, poultry… all used in trade for
assistance in their legal matters.
The Holy Spirit is of course much more than merely a defender
of his clients. But the parallel holds that the Holy Spirit walks
alongside us to help us and to look out for us. The role of the Holy
Spirit is all-encompassing: as our comforter, counsellor, helper,
guide, advocate, intercessor, etc… there to help us to love more.
John 14: 15-21
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another
Advocate, to be with you forever. 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 will not leave
you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the
world will no longer see me, but you will see me;
because I live, you also will live. On that day you will
know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in
you. They who have my commandments and keep them
are those who love me, and those who love me will be
loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal
myself to them.”
THE PROMISED HELPER
This passage picks up where last week’s reading left off.
Jesus continues to deliver his Farewell Discourse, preparing
his disciples for his departure and their receipt of the Holy
To John, there is only one test of love, and it is obedience.
It was by his obedience that Jesus showed his love of God:
and it is by our obedience that we must show our love of
Jesus. The New Testament scholar C.K, Barrett says: ‘John
never allowed love to devolve into a sentiment or emotion.
Its expression is always moral and is revealed in obedience.
To Jesus, real love is not an easy thing. It is shown only in
But Jesus does not leave us to struggle with the Christian
life alone. He would send us another Helper. The Greek
word is parakletos, which is really untranslatable. The
Authorised Version renders it Comforter, which, although
hallowed by time and usage, is not a good translation.
Moffatt translates it as Helper. It is only when we examine
this word parakletos in detail that we catch something of the
riches of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It really means
someone who is called In; but it is the reason why the
person is called in which gives the word its distinctive
associations. The Greeks used the word in a wide variety of
ways. A parakletos might be a person called in to give
witness in a law court in someone’s favour, or an advocate
called in to plead the cause of someone under a charge
which would issue in a serious penalty; an expert called in
to give advice in some difficult situation, or a person called
in when for example, a company of soldiers were depressed
and dispirited to put new courage into their minds and
hearts. Always a parakletos is someone called in to help in
time of trouble or need. Comforter was once a perfectly
good translation. It actually goes back to John Wycliff, the
first person to use it in his translation made in the fourteenth
century. But in his day it mean much more than it means
now. The word comes from the Latin fortis, which means
brave; and a comforter was someone who enabled some
dispirited creature to be brave. Nowadays comfort has to do
almost solely with sorry; and a comforter is someone who
sympathizes with us when we are sad. Beyond a doubt the
Holy Spirit does that, but to limit his work to that function is
sadly to belittle him. We often talk of being able to cope with
things. This is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit. He takes
away our inadequacies and enables us to cope with life.
The Holy Spirit substitutes victorious for defeated living.
Jesus went on to say that the world cannot recognise the
Spirit. By the world is meant that section of the human race
that lives as if there was no God. The point of Jesus’ saying
is: we can see only what we are fitted to see. An astronomer
will see far more in the sky than an ordinary person.
Someone who knows about art will see far more in a picture
than someone who is quite ignorant of art. A person who
has eliminated God never listens for him; and we cannot
receive the Holy Spirit unless we wait in expectation and in
prayer for him to come to us.
Jesus was indeed God WITH us, but he told his disciples of
an even more staggering truth, that the time was fast
approaching when the Holy Spirit would be sent: God
WITHIN us. The limited reach of the Lord Jesus as a Person
in His human body extended only to those that were
physically alongside Him, but the unlimited reach of the Holy
Spirit as a Person, is such that no matter where we go, or
what we do, God the Holy Spirit dwells within. The Lord did
a work FOR us but since the Cross and Resurrection it is
the Holy Spirit of Truth who works WITHIN us.
Jesus explained to these panic-stricken disciples what His
departure meant. He had been as God to them. In Him God
had touched the very springs of their life and entered into
their souls. His going did not mean that God would forsake
them. If He went, they would not be left desolate; God would
send them another Advocate, another Helper, who would be
to them all that Jesus Himself had been and more; who
would bring them just the same sense of God’s nearness
and presence; who would inspire and help them just as
effectively as Jesus Himself had done.
The Holy Spirit gate crashes no one’s heart; he waits to be
received. So, when we think of the wonderful things which
the Holy spirit can do, surely we will set apart sometime
amid the bustle and the rush of live to wait in silence for him
Like these disciples, we sometimes feel lost and
bewildered, Longing for Your presence and guidance on
our journey, Open our eyes, Lord, to recognize You in our
midst. Fill us with a burning desire to know You more, As
we engage in this time of prayer and reflection, May Your
Word come alive in us, bringing transformation. Empower
us, O Lord, to share the Good News, With hearts full of joy
and faith, just like the disciples, And may our lives be a
testimony to Your redeeming love. Amen
• Read the passage carefully, two or three times. Does
anything stand out? Perhaps I am struck by Jesus’
desire that I should believe in him. I am invited to look
at the depth or perhaps the lack of depth of my own
faith in Jesus. Whether my faith is strong or weak, I
discuss it honestly with Jesus now.
• Or perhaps I notice that Jesus’ desire is that I should
be with him where he is. How does it make me feel to
hear those words? Again, I talk to Jesus about my
feelings, and then I sit in silence for a while to listen
• Jesus promises to send us ‘the Advocate’, ‘the
Counsellor’. these words suggest some sort of legal
figure but really Jesus is telling us that we will be
accompanied by his life-giving, enabling and affirming
Spirit. Where do you need this Spirit in your day?
Where do you ask for the Spirit? Where do you
recognise the Spirit’s presence?
• Lord, you are inviting me, choosing me, to be your
intimate friend, to go out in your name and to make
an impact on this precious world, and bear lasting