Someone to Stand by Us
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
1 Peter 3:15-18
In difficult times, we all need someone to stand up for us and to be at our side. We all know how disappointed we feel when we are abandoned by our friends because of something someone may have said about us or something we may have done. We also know how encouraged we feel when someone has the courage to stand by us.
Jesus promises the apostles in today’s Gospel that he will never abandon them. He promises that, even though they will not see him, he will still be active among them. How does he plan to do that? Jesus tells the disciples that he will send them “another Advocate.” An advocate is someone who stands up for you, who pleads your case, who defends you against a prosecutor who has brought up charges against you. Jesus is the first advocate. He is our first defender. By offering his body on the cross, he took away the charge against us, serving the sentence in our place. Jesus is continuing to advocate for us in heaven. He is continuing to pray for us before the Father until the day we are finally with him in glory.
The Advocate that Jesus promises to send is the Holy Spirit. Whereas Jesus pleads our case before the Father, the Holy Spirit pleads our case against the world. As Jesus explains it, the world is the people, the structures, and the institutions that are organized to frustrate the work of God and the spread of the Gospel. This world cannot accept the Father. We only have to pick up the paper or watch the TV for five minutes to know how true this is. Christians are accused of being hypocrites, of lacking compassion, or of being backwards. Movies and books portray believers as judgmental and joyless. The art world strives to offend Christians by blaspheming Jesus in sculptures and paintings. This world is trying to discourage us in our life of faith. It is trying to convince us that it is better to live for our own pleasure than for the Gospel. It is constantly trying to deceive us and lure us away from what life is really about—knowing, loving, and serving God. The Holy Spirit is our advocate before this hostile world. The world has judged us according to its values, but the Holy Spirit who is alive in our hearts stands with us and helps us to live joyfully and faithfully in a world that is pitted against us. We can face this challenge with confidence because Scripture assures us that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Some translations of today’s Gospel passage use the word paraclete instead of “advocate.” Paraclete is really a word made up by translators who were trying to capture the fullness of what Jesus was meaning to say. The word paraclete does not appear anywhere else in English, except when referring to the Holy Spirit. The Greek word that we translate here as “advocate” also means “defender,” “encourager,” “guide,” or even “teacher.”
Another word that might capture for us a little bit of what Jesus meant when he called the Holy Spirit “Paraclete” is the word “coach.” A good coach has a game plan drawn up for her players. She puts her players through drills to build up their stamina and strengthen their skills. A good coach instills resiliency in her players when they fail and inspires them to do whatever it takes to win. Just so, the Holy Spirit living in our hearts coaches us on how to live the Gospel message with joy.
We are not alone. If we love God and obey his commandments, then we can be assured that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts. This Holy Spirit strengthens us to live a life faithful to God’s word. This Holy Spirit encourages us when we face difficulties or fail. This Holy Spirit guides our choices so that we make progress in the life of faith. This Holy Spirit makes Jesus alive and active among us. This Holy Spirit stands by our side when the world looks down on us, despises us, or ridicules us. At the same time, this Holy Spirit fills our hearts with love for the world so that we can bring the truth of God’s love to it by our words and actions.
We will all certainly stand before the judgment seat of God. But if we have loved God in this life and have obeyed his commandments, then we can be assured that we will have two powerful advocates at our side—Jesus and his Holy Spirit.
Douglas Sousa, STL