But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.
For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
We all have those particular passages of Scripture that test our faith and strain our credulity: When Balaam’s ass thinks his master is being one, and so strikes up a conversation about it. When Jonah is swallowed by the whale and then spit out again so that he can go to Nineveh after all. When the Apostle Paul is preaching so long that Eutyches falls asleep, falls out the window and dies. Yes, Paul raises him from the dead, but then he goes back upstairs and goes on preaching.
And then there’s today’s Gospel. Why in the world does Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go”?
How can this be? Jesus is claiming that we are better off with the Holy Spirit, than if Jesus Himself were sitting right here bodily among us.
Do I really believe this? What do I do about it?
In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, He tells His apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
The word “power”—dynamis in Greek—is closely related to “dynamite.” The gift that Jesus is promising is no wimpy substitute for Himself.
I thought about this in March when three successive snowstorms dumped almost thirty inches of snow on us in less than ten days. The heavy wet snow in combination with storm winds caused trees to topple, severing multiple power lines and leaving many without power for days.
At first, it seems almost romantic, eating and reading by candle light as in times gone by. But then one notices that the internet does not work without power. Foods that don’t require cooking are used up, and there is nothing to prepare for dinner without the power of the stove. Water from wells likewise cannot be pumped through faucets without power. The furnace cannot heat the house without power and so things quickly become cold. And then very, very cold. The dark is no longer fun; we wait impatiently for the power and light to return.
So it is with the power of the Holy Spirit. It was by His power that The Light entered the world when He overshadowed Mary and Jesus was conceived; it is by His power that we receive the light of faith and understanding. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the Body of Christ at Mass, our ultimate Food. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that awakens for us the thirst for God, for goodness, for truth—and He that ensures that we are drawn to the Living Water. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are given the Word Made Flesh, and the words to communicate this love to one another. It is by His Power that we are made clean in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is in this power that we can live the abundant life and joy that Jesus desires for us.
Just as on a large scale the power of the Holy Spirit makes the Christian life possible and real, we need the power of the Holy Spirit on a practical and personal level even to pray. Scripture tells us that not only does the Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, He prays with us and in our place:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Rom 8:26)
Not only has the Holy Spirit inspired me with all of my deepest desires, He expresses them to God when I cannot. And if He does this for me in prayer, how much more will He do if I open my entire life to His Power? For God “gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34)
As Pentecost approaches, let us ask for the grace to be ever more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world.