Bailie on John 13-17

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of John”
Tape #10; Re: John 13:31-17:26

  1. What Bailie takes as his task:
    1. to understand the biblical tradition, the Gospel specifically, and the cultures that have derived from them generally, in two ways:
      1. anthropologically, the biblical revelation and its cultural after-effects, and
      2. in terms of spirituality, especially Christian spirituality.
    2. Or, in other terms, to take a look at the effects of the biblical tradition
      1. on the unfolding drama of human history
      2. as well as the unfolding drama in one’s own life, which is the purview of Christian spirituality.
    3. There’s probably no better place to see these two things than in the Farewell Discourse of John’s Gospel.
    4. The Farewell Discourse is a prestigious genre in the biblical tradition, especially with Moses’ farewell discourse which makes up the book of Deuteronomy. No one uses it as explicitly in the NT as the Fourth Evangelist.
  2. Trying to combine the anthropological with the spiritual, we begin with a meditation on the anthropological: what is history?
    1. It is a question that has dawned on those under the biblical influence of the last few centuries–Hegel’s work stands out, though flawed.
    2. To say that the biblical revelation is an historical revelation is an understatement; it would be more accurate to say that what we think of when we say the word “history” is itself a product of biblical revelation.
      1. This doesn’t mean history as a catalog of objective events; this type of catalog existed prior to any biblical contribution to the idea of history. Such catalogs were pre-occupied with power, and prestige generated by conflict, and by the political effects of such conflicts; these existed before Israelite historiography and independently of its influence. But such catalogs are as fundamentally meaningless as the exploits with which they remain enthralled.
      2. Shelley’s sonnet “Osimandius” is a comment on this kind of history, as well as on the swollen figures on which it fixates. Reads excerpts. Osimandius is a figure who felt himself to be right in the middle of history, and in retrospect he is non-existent. What Shelley sees in looking back is what the prophets and NT see when looking forward.
      3. NRS 1 Corinthians 15:24: “Then comes the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” Here, the NT revelation is seen as something that will deconstruct all the myths of power and might.
      4. Real history, as we know it–that is to say, critical historiography–begins with the sustained and morally coherent critique of the Israelite monarchy in the 8th century B.C. It is the history of demythologizing. And Shelley’s poem takes its place in this history, a history of the effort to point out the pomposities, perversities and misrecognitions upon which our personal collective self-assessments depend.
    3. The fundamental subject matter of this history is not discrete events, but the dynamic of gradual demystification itself, the dynamic in the context of which the events become intelligible. So the real subject matter of history is history. That is to say, what is going on here. Not just that A happens and then B and then C and then D. But the real subject of history is what is happening when we go from A to B to C to D. The question is: what is the driving force of history.
    4. Biblically, today the driving force of the critical historiography to which the Israelite prophetic tradition gave rise is what the Fourth Evangelist called the Paraclete. So here we have this little term used in such a strange way, by modern standards–this esoteric term which no one can translate, so we bring the Greek into many translations–is the driving force of human history in our world today. All we have to do is to read the text carefully and then pick up the morning newspaper, and sooner or later it will dawn on us.
    5. Inasmuch as biblical revelation is historical, we cannot arrive at the universal and timeless meaning of any given historical event by abstracting from it, by treating it allegorically or symbolically.
      1. This is what we have tried to do in the past. We have seen certain events in the biblical canon, and we have sensed that these events have universal meaning, and we’ve tried to get at that meaning by going to the universal–that is to say, by backing away from it and seeing it on this horizon of allegory or symbolization.
      2. It’s a virtuous desire we have to see it in its wider implications, but we don’t realize how grounded in history the revelation is. And so we must stay within the historical context in order to get to something transcendent.
      3. It’s a paradox: if one wants to move out of the nitty-gritty, sometimes crude, historical form into the universal, one would better do it by sticking with the historical circumstances than by abstracting from it. The universality and timelessness of such events comes to the fore when we locate them in their historical setting, which gave rise to them in the first place.
      4. For example: Readers of John’s Gospel realize that it has universal and timeless implications. But they are not the mystical, Cosmic Christ implications that we tend to draw out of them today. The living Christ so central to the Fourth Gospel is palpable in our world. The Paraclete is the driving force in history, the one that has Christianized the West and is Westernizing the world. We say this not to valorize the so-called Christian West (we’re hardly Christian any longer, except in the anthropological sense). This phenomenon is a mixed bag morally and intellectually. But there is something going on in the world which is pretty clear, the westernization of the world. What is happening in our world–whether its happening perversely, negatively, and violently, or in a positive and hopeful way–is happening because of the Paraclete.
  3. So first we need to set these discourses in their historical setting. We can get more out of that than by leaping to the Cosmic Christ which seems to be hovering over the text.
    1. In the late first century the Christian movement was in crisis, but two can be lifted up in relation to this passage:
      1. The apostolic generation was dying, a crisis for all the churches, that helped bring the gospels into being.
        1. The impulse to write them comes from the need for an authoritative text upon the deaths of authoritative witnesses.
        2. But it was more a crisis for the Johannine community because it shunned the institutional structures that were so much a part the other churches, such as those that gave rise to the synoptic gospels. In the other churches, there is in place a way to appoint authorities to help meet the loss of apostolic witnesses.
        3. It recalls the end of the career of the prophet Samuel. The people ask for a king. They want to do what the other nations do, although they are not supposed to do what the other nations do, because they’re leader is dying.
        4. The Johannine community had committed itself to the premise that the Spirit would guide it and that it did not have to have these institutional structures. (The tension continues today between the need to institutionalize, best carried out by those who realize that the act of institutionalizing is itself an act of apostasy.) So it is a bigger crisis for this community when its eyewitness dies. And that it soon fell apart afterwards is an historical fact.
      2. The other contributing factor to the crisis is the fact that Jesus hadn’t yet come again. They had to either re-interpret this expectation or abandon it.
        1. In 2 Peter you have the interpretative move of calling a day a thousand years for the Lord.
        2. In John, Jesus has come when we come together. He is living in the Father and we are in him, and vice versa. This has been called realized eschatology. There is a future element of God’s coming, but it’s also coming right now in you.
        3. In our world, evolution passes as eschatology, which will some day soon be deconstructed in some way. As a reigning interpretation it will collapse.
        4. Eternal life is knowing God, and living in God through Christ, right now.
    2. We might venture to say this: an eyewitness lived late into the first century and finally died, a big crisis for the church which resulted in this gospel. The imminent death left its mark on the way this gospel was fashioned. The dismay of the Johannine community at the imminent death of the eyewitness corresponds to the dismay of the disciples at the imminent death of Jesus. There is a conflation of two historical events. This beloved disciple remembers what it was like to lose Jesus; knowing that, he tells the story of Jesus’ departure in a way that will help his community. Remembering is a creative act of faith in this gospel, absolutely the opposite of mythologizing. To mythologize is to remember by leaving out the things that would lead to contrition. In the biblical world, the only measure of consciousness is contrition. To remember in the Johannine sense in to remember the events in a way that makes them revelatory (the opposite of myth which conceals), leading the listeners to deeper understanding of the events.
  4. Commentary on the Farewell Discourse–not in order, but topically
    1. Begin with the idea that the evangelist is preparing his community for the shock that the disciples felt at Jesus’ death.
      1. You get language like the following: NRS John 16:16 “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” This is precisely what they were asking at the end of the first century. Jesus was supposed to return in a little while; where is he?
      2. The leaving and returning have to do with believing, with a conversion of heart. Jesus answers: NRS John 16:20 “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Seeing is always a synonym for believing in this gospel.
    2. Luke and Matthew have birth stories of Jesus the Nazarene, which happened in a little shack. Where will the birth of Christ take place? John says in heartbreak, despair, sadness, in the manger of your own emotional catastrophe, following the death of Jesus.
      1. NRS John 16:7 “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” ‘You must undergo the heartbreak of my going to the cross for the Paraclete to come.’ And the effect of the Paraclete is to make it impossible for you not to empathize with everyone you see in my position. Every person who you see persecuted, you will see Christ in him or her. And the Paraclete will be doing that to you. And how could he do that to you until Jesus gets crucified? The Paraclete cannot break the spell of the sacrificial system unless Jesus goes to the cross. The second coming, the birth of Christ in the community and in the person of faith, happens in an emotional manger, similar to the birth of Jesus in an animal shed.
      2. NRS John 14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Jesus does not say they won’t be orphaned; he won’t leave them orphaned. When you come to the realization of the Father living in Jesus and Jesus in you, then the second coming has happened.
    3. Faith and knowledge. Do we go from knowledge to faith? No, from faith to knowledge. Faith is the epistemological force par excellence. Science was a little thing we created a long the way, when faith made it impossible for us to believe in magic anymore.
    4. NRS John 16:25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.
      1. parresia means “boldly.” (This word was used in the prophetic tradition to signify bold gestures, not just speech acts, like Jeremiah walking around in harness.) We could almost take the word paroimiais, “figures of speech,” simply as standing for speech itself. We could almost read this as, ‘The time for words is past. The revelation will have to come through something more dramatic than that, i.e., the cross.
      2. The next bit of dialogue is: NRS John 16:29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.” He is talking about moving from talk to the cross, and they think he is talking about moving from poetry to prose. The cross is not a metaphor or symbol. When Jesus says he is going to speak one more time, boldly and decisively, it can mean nothing but the cross. If you want to get the universality of the cross, you have to stick with its facticity, the fact of a public execution.
    5. NRS John 14:30 “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me.” The showdown is about to happen between Jesus and the prince of this world. Who is the prince of this world, the organizing principal? Jesus is the first Paraclete, and will send another one later. But the first Paraclete and the prince of this world are about to have a showdown. Or we can go back to chapter 8: the son of my father is about to have a showdown with the son of the father who is a murderer from the beginning, the father of lies. So he’s not going to talk anymore.
    6. NRS John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Who’s the Paraclete?
      1. The Greek term parakletos is variously translated “the Counselor,” “the Advocate.” More straightforwardly, it meant the lawyer for the defense, the one who stood in the place of the accused and argued his/her case. The Paraclete always has, as Raymond Brown points out, a forensic role. It argues on behalf of its client. It turns that accusation back on the accusatory institution or agent, to cause the accusation to rebound on the accusers.
      2. “Spirit of Truth”: aletheia means literally to “stop forgetting.” The reason the accusatory system lives on is because we always forget the truth. We carry around a myth, which the Spirit will no longer let us do. The world has to exclude the Paraclete in order to carry on in its ordinary way. Conventional culture exists by periodically re-convening its social consensus at the expense of its victim. And that world can only exist if it can misrecognize the arbitrariness of its selection of victims, and all the rest of it. So when the Paraclete comes and makes that misrecognition increasingly difficult, the world begins to deconstruct. The cultural structures begin to come apart.
      3. NRS John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
        1. Here you have the whole problem of history in a nutshell. This revelation is historical. It gradually dawns on the human race. That, in a way, is the mercy that’s inherent in it, because we’re only asked to live up to moral mandates that we’re capable of living up to.
        2. If the full revelation were to hit Abraham on Mt. Moriah, he wouldn’t even have sacrificed the goat, and all hell would have broken loose when he came back down. This is what happened to Moses. He went up the mountain and came back down, and the people were worshiping the golden calf. 3000 people died.
        3. In other words, if we tried to eliminate all the crazy sacrificial aspects of human culture overnight, we would descend into that terrible cauldron of violence from which the sacrificial system saved us. So it’s a progressive thing. This is mentioned not in order to urge us to tolerate any sacrificial rituals that we can recognize, but only to say that we’re only allowed to recognize those that we’re morally capable of doing without. Our descendants will be able to recognize those we cannot yet recognize, and they will be morally capable of living without them. We can’t recognize them, probably because we cannot live without them. There’s something tremendously forgiving in this statement.
      4. NRS John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” The Spirit of Truth is the Paraclete. The Paraclete is the counselor for the accused. Question: If the Paraclete, as Paraclete, will lead us to the complete truth, how could someone who does nothing but defend victims from accusations lead us to the complete truth? It could be true under only one circumstance: that the accusatory phenomenon is the source of all human delusion. All human delusion is generated in that social vortex constellated around the common accused enemy. If that system could be shattered, and to the extent that it is, we will wake up from the spell that it has cast on us, and we’ll be led to the truth, gradually. The Paraclete’s mission in the world to deconstruct the accusations against the potential victims. The Paraclete breaks down the social consensus generated by accusation, and thereby frees us from the myth. Jesus’ going to the cross is what sends the Paraclete.
      5. NRS John 16:8 “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” Couldn’t be clearer.
        1. Imagine you find a diary stashed away from a 17th century New England village. It contains an account of the crops failing and cattle dying; a woman is accused of casting a spell; she is run out of town and her house is burned; and, lo and behold, the crops get better the next year. Is it true? Of course not. You say, ‘The reason I say it’s not true is that I don’t believe in magic.’ But really that begs the question. Why don’t we believe in magic? We don’t believe in magic because we gradually ceased to find accusations of magic plausible.
        2. As Girard says, “We didn’t stop burning witches because we invented science. We invented science because we stopped burning witches.” There is an epistemological force, a revelatory force, at the heart of Western inquiry, scientific and otherwise, that is determined to get past the myth. And the myth par excellence is the myth that justifies the accusation, justifies the victimization.
        3. We know that witches were unjustly killed because of the work of the Paraclete in our world. We have a knowledge that is not scientific, but it is rigorous. It’s epistemologically sound knowledge given to us by the Paraclete.
      6. NRS Matthew 10:19 “When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” This does not mean that you shouldn’t worry because, when push comes to shove, you’ll be given great eloquence. It means that if you find yourself, after the revelation, in the place of the victim, the very fact that you are in that place will give you moral authority. The moral authority will begin to shift from the accusers to the accused. You need not start brushing up on your rhetoric; they will have to brush up on theirs. That’s the Paraclete operating in our world. (Quote from Eric Gans.)
  5. Examples of how the Paraclete is working in the world.
    1. Capt. Cook in Tahiti (see ch. 4, pp. 67-78 of Violence Unveiled) The Tahitians perform ritual sacrifices as a prelude to war.
      1. Cook asks some questions that they have never been asked before. Myth doesn’t answer questions; it extinguishes the mental vitality required to answer them. A myth goes without saying.
      2. Cook conveys his sentiments about the sacrifice through an educated native, Omai, who expresses their views with great conviction, concluding that the chief would have been hanged for murder in England. The spirit of this young interpreter is the Paraclete, which seizes hold of him. The chief, representing the prince of this world, tries to regain his hold through his wrath. Notice the irony of saying the chief would have been hanged. It’s progress made only within the sacrificial system.
    2. Billy Budd, by Herman Melville. Billy is scandalized by an officer, Claggert, kills him, and must be hanged for it.
      1. The trial. Captain Veer sees the hesitancy of the three officers chosen for the jury and has to “brush up on his rhetoric” to convince them. Empathy for the victim is not nature; it’s part of the biblical world.
      2. The moment of hanging, amidst the rolling of the ship. The business of sacrifice in human anthropology is the restoration of order, a catharsis that restores order. The ship is just regaining even keel as Billy is hung.
      3. The official report conjectures that Budd was a foreigner.
  6. The Paraclete casting out the Paraclete is the world we live in today, where we choose the victimizers to be the victims. Two examples.
    1. From Rousseau’s Confessions.
    2. Dostoevski’s The Idiot.
  7. Conclusion
    1. The reason for these examples to show that it is the Paraclete at work in our world. And, if you don’t believe it, pick up tomorrow’s paper and see how it deconstructs the sacrificial ruse, and what happens to a society that tries to live after the sacrificial ruse has been deconstructed without a conversion experience. It falls into chaos. Because the only alternative to the sacrificial system, in terms of civility and sanity, is conversion. And that’s the other thing that the Farewell Discourses underscore emphatically, i.e., the need for conversion, for Christ to dwell within us.
    2. Some final comments on John 17
      1. NRS John 17:11 “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.” Jesus, when he says “world,” is not referring to simply the earth or the flesh. He is referring to that ordered cosmos, which is the mythologized world of conventional culture. He’s in it no longer.
      2. NRS John 17:14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one [i.e., the Accuser]. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Later, Jesus speaks to Pilate of coming “into” the world but not being “of” the world.
    3. This is where the anthropological reading leads directly into the spiritual reading. The Johannine Jesus says, (John 15:1) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. You are the branches.” If I am no longer at home in the culture world, if I can no longer derive my sense of social significance, psychological grounding, and all the rest of it from the social consensus, then where do I get it? My Father is the vinedresser, I am the vine, and you are the branches. This is the new world you belong to. Christ replaces the world as your source of self-substantiation. He says, ‘I’m robbing it of its power to substantiate either itself or you. Slowly but surely it will lose its power to substantiate itself and those people who participate in it. If you want substantiation, then you have to go to the only source of self-substantiation, God. There is no way to go to God directly. You need a mediator. I will be the mediator. You can now ground yourself in me. You live in me, and I will live in you.’ This sounds so esoteric, in a way, but it’s absolutely practical. It needs to be seen in terms of this juxtaposition of the collapse of the conventional social world’s ability to substantiate itself and its participants. He says, ‘You have to have a home; you don’t have a home in the world anymore. Make your home in me, and I in you. Abide in me, and then you will have some grounding.’
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