Commentary on John 14:15-21
This week’s pericope begins and ends with love. What is interesting about how Jesus begins is the connection to the apocryphal work the Wisdom of Solomon. Many Protestant Christians do not read Wisdom, but I would argue that engaging with the Gospel of John and its relationship to Wisdom invites readers to read John’s Gospel not only with the echoes found between the Wisdom of Solomon and the Gospel of John but also with the invitation to “queer” our standard interpretations of John’s Gospel.
First, regarding echoes, scholar Richard Hays has been instrumental in providing a framework for thinking through echoes of scripture both in the Gospels and in Pauline literature. Specifically, echoes can be shouts, whispers, phrases, or songs that demonstrate intertextuality between New Testament texts and texts that would have been in the cultural milieu of the writers of the New Testament. While Christian interpreters find echoes of text within the Old Testament, they oftentimes ignore the apocryphal works that were also influential at the time of the writing of the Gospels. Wisdom of Solomon is one of them.
Second, Johannine scholar Lindsey S. Jodrey approaches texts in the Gospel of John from their socio-cultural location as a queer person. While I identify as a cis-gender womanist New Testament scholar who is married to a man, I take seriously the approaches of my queer colleagues and recognize the power of reading the Johannine text outside of the norm. Historically, heterosexuality has been framed as the normal viewpoint that assumes a binary model of gender. As such, biblical interpretation has become heteronormative with attention to masculinity ruling the day. What does it look like to read John 14:15-21 with a queer approach, that bucks against the rule of masculinity? I would argue that the action of love, which serves as an inclusio that brackets this pericope, would be even more inclusive and participatory.
Let us begin to hear the echoes and queer the text for an expanded understanding of love in John 14:15-21. First, I begin with a re-translation of John 14:15-21 as follows:
If you love me, you will guard my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever. She is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because the world neither sees her nor knows her. You know her, because she abides with you and she will be in you.
Already, dear reader, I know that you can ascertain that I have translated the Spirit as “she.” The Greek language is a gendered language. There are masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns. The Greek word pneuma is a neuter noun. Accordingly, a more accurate pronoun regarding the Spirit would be “it.” In essence, the Spirit in the New Testament is non-binary but we have made the Spirit “he.” Translators have masculinized the Spirit in translation. I am opting for “she” as a way to queer the “normal” translations that masculinize the Spirit.
Continuing from his dialogue in John 14:1-14, in 15-21, Jesus opens with the phrase “if you love me, you will hold fast (or keep) my commandments.” The interesting aspect of this verse is that it shares echoes with Wisdom of Solomon 6:18. Jesus echoes the words of Lady Wisdom in 6:18. The writer of Wisdom of Solomon (which pre-dates the Gospel of John) states that loving Lady Wisdom is “the keeping of her laws.”1 Hearing these echoes in the Gospel of John is not unusual as scholars have also compared Wisdom 7:22-30 with John 1:1-14. The Johannine Jesus as described in 1:1-14 portrays many similarities to Lady Wisdom as outlined in Wisdom 7:22-30. Accordingly, one must ask: why do such strong echoes occur?
I would argue that these echoes act as markers of binary crossings. As Hays discusses echoes, he argues that metalepsis occurs. Metalepsis is a literary device that shifts figures within a text from one narrative level to another, thereby marking some crossings of borders or binaries. Metalepsis is used as a valuable instrument that produces vividness of character. Readers begin to understand characters based on echoes of other characters. In the imagery of Jesus as Lady Wisdom, one could argue for a bit of “feminization” of Jesus as we compare him to Lady Wisdom.
Transgressing boundaries and binaries from one text to another is a queer experience. Boundary and binary crossings remind readers that there is less distance and more connection between figures within a text. Moreover, these figures share similarities while also performing similar duties. I would argue that Lady Wisdom, Jesus, and even the Spirit share connection and duties. Now, what do these connections mean for love?
John 14:15 begins with Jesus stating that those who love him will keep his commandments. What has been the greatest commandment that Jesus has espoused? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”2 Loving your neighbor as yourself means inviting them to participate in the full inclusion of unity between Father, Son, and Spirit while Jesus also unifies with his disciples: female and male. Hearing the echoes of the Wisdom of Solomon and queering our reading of John 14:15-21 invites full participation and full inclusion into the family of God without the gender hierarchy that still permeates many ecclesial spaces today. Love means taking action to ensure that all members have access to be loved by the Father, loved by the Son, and live a full life with the help of the feminine Spirit.
- As an apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon is generally understood to have been composed in Greek between 1 BCE and 1 CE. Although bearing Solomon’s name, this text was written by someone else who wanted to honor Solomon in the naming.
- Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.
May 14, 2023