Commentary on John 16:12-15
The Trinity presented to us in John is a manifestation of God’s love for us, a way of opening a door to the mystery of God that allows us to see ourselves embraced by it.
We can better understand the Trinity from this brief passage for Trinity Sunday when we view these verses as a window into all that Jesus says to his friends in John 13-17. Love is the overarching theme of the five chapters of comfort and instruction that Jesus shares with his friends on the night of his arrest. John 13 begins with a reference to Jesus’ love for his own to the end and builds to the threefold commandment to love. Love is linked to the giving of the Spirit in John 14. The vine/vine grower/branches metaphor of John 15 is interpreted as love, as Jesus’ unity with the Father throughout John has been understood to be love, and as the sending of the Son is because God loves the world. Those who believe in Jesus are explicitly drawn into the love of Father and Son in the prayer of John 17 so that the divine love story with the world can be made manifest in them. The passage for Trinity Sunday invites us to draw all of that together.
This text moves from Jesus through the Spirit to us and from Jesus back to the one who sent him (Jesus—us—Spirit—us—Spirit—Jesus—Spirit—us—Father—Jesus—Spirit—us) and paints a picture of the eternal love flowing from the one who sends, to the sent one, to the Spirit who dwells in us in abiding love and makes us love-bearers for, in, and with God—sent out ourselves into the world to bear witness to it with our love (for example, 13:34-35; 15:27; 17:18). The loving circle of God—the Father, the Son-Word, and the Spirit-breath—draws us into itself and moves us out into the world with it.
We might wish to imagine a Trinitarian triptych for this and the past two Sundays. In one panel Jesus comforts and prays for his own, including us, while in a second panel we lift off on the wings of the Spirit from Easter held in a love beyond time and soar into the heart of the Trinity with the risen Christ. Then in a third panel, as part of the Trinitarian dance of love, we also become bearers of God’s love for our neighbors and the world.
As with the English word “bear,” the Greek word used in 16:12 is also used elsewhere in the New Testament to speak about bearing a physical weight. It is used of Jesus bearing the cross in 19:17, and Mary Magdalene uses it when she mistakes the risen Lord for a gardener who has carried away the body of Jesus. Jesus recognizes that the disciples cannot bear all that he is saying and reassures them (and us) that the truth-bearing Spirit, promised in 14:15-26, will carry it all for them and guide them into the truth of God.
The Greek word used here for “guide” includes in it the word for “way.” The Spirit guides us into the truth of the way, which we know already from 14:6 is not a set of instructions, but a relationship with a person who loves us. Even when we do not have the spiritual muscle to be as wise or as loving as we would like, the Spirit holds all the truth of God in us, and as we grow more and more in our love for the one who is truth, we are able to carry a greater weight of glory in and for the world (2 Corinthians 4:17)—because the Spirit in us declaring the things of God to us glorifies the Father and Son (16:14).
All that the Father has is Jesus’, we read here, and Jesus is embodied love for the world. We are invited into that love with the Spirit to teach us all we need to know.
Words for “say,” “speak,” and “declare” appear seven times in these four verses. The speech of God moves in this passage between the Father and Jesus (all that the Father has is his) through the Spirit of truth to us. Then the word is embedded in us so that we also can bear witness (15:26-27) in words and works as Jesus has done and says we will do (14:12-14). The creative, life-giving word moves from the one who sends to the sent one to the Spirit who dwells in us in abiding love and makes us love-bearers in, for, and with God to the world.
This Gospel presents the Trinity as a way of understanding God for, with, and in us and of understanding ourselves for, with, and in God as daughters and sons (1:12-13) who have seen what it means to be children of God in Jesus (1:14). Through Jesus’ example, teaching, and love, we are made to understand and to rejoice in God’s love for us and to learn to love one another as neighbors dwelling close to the heart of God with the Son in the unity of love. And when we do this, we show the world, in loving words and works, that it also is beloved, by embodying God’s love for it. Meanwhile the Spirit is with us always, guiding us on the way of love, creating a space for us and in us to be part of the Trinitarian dance of God.