6th Sunday – The Spirit of Truth

John 14:15-21

Last Thursday, we celebrated the Feast of St Matthias, the apostle chosen by lot to replace Judas. There is very little about Matthias in the Scriptures and even in the Tradition. He is sometimes shown with an axe as that might have been how he was martyred. But those accounts are also conflicted. From the hundred and twenty disciples, two are found by the apostles who have been with them all three years. A long time. But the very fact that we know so little of him and the way he is included in the college of apostles unlocks an important truth of the spiritual life. 

            Matthias was not one of the apostles chosen at the start. That would have been amazing. For three years, to eat with Jesus, laugh with him, see the miracles he performed first hand. Not to mention the adulation of the crowds which they would have shared. Matthias wasn’t privy to all the dignity that came with being part of this chosen few. But he had obviously found something in Jesus that captured him and he was content enough to follow the Lord everywhere for those three years. He wasn’t sulking that he wasn’t chosen as one of the twelve. He wasn’t in competition with the apostles. How amazed and overwhelmed with joy he must have been, when, without any expectation, he was suddenly chosen by lot to belong to this august group. 

            We sometimes speak of winning life’s lottery. We usually mean that someone has been greatly gifted – maybe with wealth, great intelligence, fame, power or beauty and what not. We easily make them our identity. Whatever these might be, we always end up in competition with everyone else. We have a deep desire to be loved and we want to offer reasons for people to love us. Maybe, if we can have so much wealth, people will like us; if we can dazzle others with our brilliance or maybe if I look really beautiful, this person will love me. The list goes on. We look for satisfaction where it can’t be provided. And we only have to come across someone who seems to embody our own gifts in a greater way for all our security to be threatened. But even when we have all of it seemingly in plenty, we can never have enough. We make demands of love from people that they can’t fulfil. And here, Matthias can teach us something. Long before the lot fell on Matthias, Matthias was content with the lot that he had. I think this is his secret. He embodies a key to the spiritual life, which if we receive will transform ours. It is captured very simply in the prayer of the Collect. It says, 

Lord God, you chose Saint Matthias by lot
to complete the number of the twelve apostles.
By his prayer, include us among your chosen ones,
since we rejoice to see
that the lot marked out for us is your love.

I’m thinking of this for this Sunday because, as we read the farewell discourse of Jesus, there is a theme he returns to, often. The Father’s love. “The Father himself loves you” (Jn 16:27), was the unique revelation that Jesus came to bring. You and I are unique because of this personal love of the Father. And as he gets ready to depart, back to the Father, he promises them the gift of his Spirit. The Spirit will now mediate Jesus’ presence to his nascent Church. He will do for them what Jesus did – and more. And he will remind them, Jesus says, of everything he has said, leading them into all truth (Jn 16:13).

It is not without reason that the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Truth in today’s gospel. The world which is based on competition and games of power, cannot naturally receive this Spirit of Truth, Jesus says, because it does not know truth. In a matter of hours after this discourse, Jesus would be handed over to Pilate who would ask Jesus this very thing: ‘What is truth?’ Pilate stands as a typical symbol of the operation of the world. His identity comes from his power and his position as Caesar’s Friend. Even as he would recognise Jesus’ innocence, he would hand him over to be crucified, afraid of being outed by the people. Naturally, he cannot receive this Spirit or recognise the One who is Truth in person standing before him. But what is this truth?

In our own time, most people would instinctively equate truth with facts or scientific knowledge – which is a greatly impoverished understanding of truth. Such ‘truths’ are of course important. They have consequences for our lives. The earth being round has implications for how planes take off and land. The idea of gravity means that I do not walk off a cliff for fun. But these are not truths that matter at the deepest level, that give meaning to our lives. People don’t sing for joy about gravity. I don’t know anyone who wakes up excited that the earth is round. The natural extension of this in our post-Nietzschean world is of course, to consider the idea of truth itself as a tool of the powerful, rather than the standard by which everything is judged, what holds everything else together.

When we do encounter what is true, which is deeply meaningful, it has the capacity to change our lives. If someone tells me they love me, and I believe them, something like that has the power to profoundly change my life. From then on, even the way I see the world and comprehend its reality can change. I find my own life and the world meaningful. It is impossible, however, to know such truth scientifically. Without such experiences, we simply hold together a collection of ‘truths’ or facts. There is a lot of information with no-form, without much meaning. And I can find myself alone and threatened in a world which is chaotic.

The gospel of John uses ‘truth’ in at least two senses – of the reality of God and knowledge concerning this reality. As Catholics, we usually tend to think of the second sense, and mostly in terms of the doctrines of the Church. That is indeed a very important function, ‘all [the] truth’ into which Jesus promised the Spirit would lead them. Over the centuries, God has fulfilled this promise, through the Spirit’s guidance of the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Bishops, the successors of the apostles. But there is an equally important subjective aspect to this work of the Spirit, which we can forget. The Spirit in the first sense is the one who leads us into greater intimacy and contact with the reality of God. It is only through his action, that we come to know for ourselves, the revelation that Jesus came to bring. We no longer simply know about God, but know God. We know his love as our Father; we experience the friendship of the Spirit. We are transformed by the redemption Christ has worked on the Cross. And in the light of this personal love, we know ourselves in a new way. Our identity comes from this love. It is not without reason that the author of John’s gospel defined himself only as ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ (Jn 21:20). Without this action of the Spirit in our lives, the truths of Scripture and dogma would be no more different from that of gravity. But touched by this Spirit of Truth, the saints sang for joy; they were willing to trade everything for it. Apostles, like Matthias willingly accepted their martyrdom. They had found something greater than what the world could give. God longs for us to know this same love and to draw us into intimacy with him through his Spirit.

Pray, for a new outpouring on your life and your family, this Pentecost. When we receive the Spirit, we can be satisfied with our lot in life. We won’t need to make demands of love from people, which they can’t fulfil. Because the lot marked out for us is God’s love.

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