In the reading from Acts, Paul encounters a group of followers of John the Baptist (a symbolic twelve – or all of the true Israel) who had received John’s baptism as a preparation for receiving the message of God promised in the Messiah. But they had not yet heard of the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus.
In the text from John’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ disciples assert (after the Passover Supper and before the Garden of Gethsemane) that they finally now “get” Jesus’ message. Both sets of disciples (believing Israel, and the about-to-become Christian community) have heard some life changing news and think that that having heard this much truth, they get it and even possess it. This is a very dangerous time in a disciple’s life – they are about to enter the hardest part of the journey into Life in God – and they don’t have the foggiest idea what it will cost, or how they will respond!
In the case of the Baptist’s disciples, they receive Paul’s witness and humbly enter the ritual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to receive the outpouring of God’s Spirit that transforms their lives. And the gift transforms and their speech to far greater truth and power than they could possibly have known or understood before. In the gospel passage, Jesus’ disciples who think they finally have “gotten it” are about to enter their baptism by fire through the actual death and resurrection of Jesus. They are about to run from their commitment to fidelity to Jesus – to be scattered in terror abandoning what they so confidently assert that they “get.”
How often do any of us reach a stage of thinking that now we “get it?” We know how life works. We understand the facts – or even the faith. We have, with some certitude or righteousness, grasped what Jesus has to offer us. I occasionally have students who are certain they know all that there is to know about the subject of the course – on the third day of class! Sometimes I have encountered Christians of various denominations (including my very own) who are convinced that their tradition has received the fullness of the message and that we need nothing more. I have been there more than once myself – too dumb or too proud to recognize the place the second or third time around . . .
The coming of the Spirit of Truth occurs when that certitude that we possess the answers dies in us. Perhaps it dies in the face of actual loss of hope, of dreams, of the sand castles we have built, the institutions we have forged in our image and likeness, any certitude we have substituted for a humble faith in a God of constant surprises and new possibilities. A God that takes us to places we never dreamed we would be asked to go. Who wants to teach us things we could not have imagined we could know.
With the out-pouring of God’s Spirit, and the wonder that it brings, the disciple’s response is a profound humility that what is now known can barely be communicated in human language. Only a kind of prayerful gibberish called tongues seems to pour from us in praise, indicating that human language cannot contain or bear the weight of the fullness of God’s truth. What we do know when we have a glimpse of God’s Truth is that we cannot scatter or drive others away with it. We must live humbly in a community that can only practice that knowledge through self-emptying love in order to communicate it to others. Human language cannot adequately express the fullness of the wisdom experience. Only the power of love that lays down its life to take it up in Christ – can begin to convey the message.All else is arrogance, or as Paul said it elsewhere, just clanging cymbals.
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