On Trinity Sunday 2019 the readings were John 16:12 – 15 and Prov 8:22 – 31. It was while working through these readings that several issues suddenly fell into place for me. The Proverbs reading is about Wisdom, the divine co-creator, that in the New Testament is read as Jesus (Colossians1) or as a type of stand-in for the Holy Spirit (Jas1:5 or the end of Jas 3 – James has no reference to the Spirit). In the former foreshadowing, Wisdom is equivalent to the Divine Word or Reason, and in the latter it functions as the one producing virtues, which Paul attributes to the Spirit.
The John 16 reading is as follows:
13 But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Here one has a Trinitarian reference: Spirit, the Son (“me”), and the Father. The Father shares all with the Son, and the Spirit shares what is the Father’s and the Son’s with the followers of the Son. Thus the followers of the Son become one with the Trinity, as the Trinity is one. In John 15 this is put in terms of “friends,” for in classical literature (Cicero in the Roman world and then later Aelred of Riveaux in the western Christian world) a friend is not necessarily an equal or a buddy, but someone who agrees with his or her friend on all things, earthly and divine. That is why classical authors would say that a wife should have the same friends as her husband and the best and most important friends of her husband were the gods he worshipped. To depart from the worship of her husband’s gods was to depart from friendship with her husband, for she clearly had another opinion. And that is also why friendship can be among unequals, such as someone being the friend of the king or the friend of a Roman noble.
But this passage in John goes beyond simply understanding what friendship is. First, it explains why one should not judge others. It is clear in John that judgment belongs to the Father and the Son, the Father having given all judgment to the Son. Thus to judge independently of the Son is to usurp the place of the “One Judge” (Jas 4:12 – 14), for the Spirit does not normally share the judgments of the Father and the Son with the followers of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus has said that he has not come for judgment, but that he will judge at the end of time, so all judgment within time is premature. (That the Son is now outside of time and thus judging, as necessary, is irrelevant in that human beings are still within time.) There are times when judgment or the threat of judgment is announced, but those are times when the Spirit communicates through those of his people that we call prophets. That role is that not of all followers of Jesus and that role is not even that of most prophets most of the time. But it does explain why James feels free to give a prophetic denunciation in Jas 4:1 – 10 (and that passage is recognized as a prophetic denunciation in the style of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures). True, the Apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes (i.e. the whole of the people of God), but while aspects of that binding and loosing are for this age, most of it is eschatological, for the coming age. What is for this age is primarily ruling on what is and is not allowed to followers of Jesus, although there are exceptions, explicitly attributed to the Spirit, such as Peter speaking to Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5.
Second, the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father is not about human beings getting their desires fulfilled. Rather, the glorifying or hallowing is that of the name of the Father(whichJesus in John connects to the glorifying of the Son) and that is the function of the Spirit in John 16. The main request is for the kingdom of God to come, which is the same as the divine will being done on earth as it already is in heaven, in the divine sphere beyond the space-time universe. In other words, the ones praying(theprayer is collective, for it is the church praying together, at least in Matthew 6) are agreeing with the Father(andthe Son) in all things human and divine. This is an act of commitment or faith. But they only know the content of this request, this agreement, if the Spirit has revealed it to them. Likewise the prayer asks for daily bread, for that is what the client of a patron(bethat patron a ruler or an important landlord) asked for each day. Their security lay in their trust of the patron and their agreement with whatever the patron decided. That means that one wants one’s transgressions against the will of the patron, in this case the Father, forgiven, for then one has deviated from friendship and cannot expect to receive daily bread. The one part of the will of the Father that is clear is that he wills to forgive and therefore, having the same mindset, since the believer agrees with him(anwith fellow believers) on all things human and divine, the true friend, the true believer can say that they have forgiven those who has transgressed against them.
Third, this applies to the role of faith or commitment in praying for the sick. In Jas 5:14 – 15 James gives instructions to presbyters/priests/elders (as over against the whole community, which comes to the fore in Jas 5:16 and seems focused on forgiveness). The presbyters follow a rite of being called to the sick, anointing them with oil as the Apostles did in Mark 6, and praying for their healing in commitment or faith. Without a specific word, this would mean a prayer of trust that the Lord would in some way heal and raise up the sick. One hopes that this is physical healing. However, as John’s gospel shows, “raising up” can have two meanings, one of which is raising up to health from the bed of sickness and the other is raising up to God. The presbyters or presbyter prays as they anoint, fully committed to the fact that God will act, but not necessarily knowing how God will act. It is a simple prayer – it does not seem to need a lot of words or a lot of repeating, as if to persuade God. But at the same time, the presbyters should be those closest in mind and heart to the Father and the Son, the ones that the Spirit communicates the mind of the Trinity to to the degree that it is necessary. (If it were always clear, then we would no longer “walk by faith” but rather “by sight,” even if the sight was inner insight.) Thus at times the Spirit does reveal the mind of the Father and a presbyter knows specifics of what to pray for. Then “faith” has come “by hearing” and in this case not a general hearing of proclamation, but the specific hearing of a “word” from God, as we see at times in the biblical book of Acts. Such “words” of course, need discernment, which is rarely practiced in this day and age, but was well-known to St Ignatius (in an appendix to his Spiritual Exercises. And the proof of whether one has really heard God or not, of whether one is projecting on to God a method of prayer or the desires of one’s own heart, is whether when one prays according to that “word” it really happens.
This truth, of course, is scary. On the one hand, the first time I did pray as a presbyter in the church was at a healing Eucharist in 1979. I simply read the scriptures, expounded the scriptures, celebrated eucharist, and then prayed exactly as James said to pray. And I did not hear anything special or feel anything special. But the one woman there who had a demonstrable illness was healed instantly – only she did not tell me for three months (which was probably good for me). My satisfaction was only in knowing that I had done the will of God, had agreed with the communication of the Trinity through James, and I trusted that God had done or would do whatever type or manner of healing he desired – that was his business, not mine.
On the other hand, I have been in situations – I think of one in Germany about 2001, in which I went to pray for someone (person y) and, before the prayer time was talking with and praying for another person with the spouse of the “someone” (i.e. person y) present. I heard within,“Prepare person x [the spouse of person y] for the death of y.” So as I counseled and prayed, I was conscious of this secondary purpose. Then, when I went to pray for y, my prayer was shaped by what I knew I had heard. I did not want to pray in that way, and in the prayer I expressed my own hopes as well, namely that I had misheard and so could hope for physical healing, and I did not directly say to either person x or person y what I had heard, but I trusted inwardly that God had communicated his purpose and prayed pastorally in such a manner that I was in agreement with it. And so it happened. Nor is that the only time something like that has happened.
So when I pray for the sick, I pray according to the revelation I have. I know God has promised to bring some type of healing or raising up if I trust him. So I pray trusting that that has happened. (Alternative, as John Wimber taught, one can stop to observe and ask what God is doing and then pray for more of what he is indeed desiring, because he is in fact doing it.) But sometimes one gets the word, “Be healed!” “Standup and walk!” or “Set your house in order, for you will soon be with Jesus.” I am comforted by the fact that in my small way this is analogous to what I read in the lives of such holy presbyters as St. Seraphim of Sarov, who often knew that a person would be healed and how they would be healed or, on the other hand, that a person would die before someone came to him asking for pray for themselves or for another. I hardly compare myself to his level of intimacy with God, but his (their– for there are others with such great intimacy with God) experience explains my experience, his way of prayer and holiness guides me forward into deeper intimacy with God, and his teaching I find is exactly what I saw in the readings last Trinity Sunday. And for that I am thankful, although thanks seems too weak a term for the enlightenment and peace that I received that Sunday and thankfulness too little to call the inner drive towards more holiness and intimacy so that I can be humble enough to be trusted with my Lord sharing with me through the Spirit as a friend does with his vastly inferior but still true friend.