The good guys of the Star Wars movies are known as the Jedi. The films show the intensive training required to become a Jedi Knight, with young apprentices receiving individual instruction from highly experienced Jedi. However, despite such excellent training, not all apprentices made successful Jedi Knights. The main villain of these movies, Darth Vader, for instance, spent years training under the Jedi Master, Obi Wan Kenobi, yet still Vader turned to evil. Even the movies’ main hero, Luke Skywalker, needed more than lessons from great Jedi Masters to make the grade. He had to learn to connect to a higher power, the Force. Only with its help could he be transformed from flawed apprentice to Jedi Knight.
Jesus’ disciples also underwent one-to-one training. They spent three intensive years being taught by Christ, going everywhere he went, watching everything he did and listening to all his teaching. Yet as with the Jedi, instruction alone did not transform them. Indeed the disciples’ progress was unimpressive. One of them betrayed Christ, bringing about his death; another denied knowing him, and all of them fled when he was arrested. Yet these men would go on to declare the Gospel around the world even though it meant facing imprisonment, persecution and death. If years of training had failed to transform them, what had? The Holy Spirit is the answer.
Our reading refers to the Spirit as “the Advocate” or, as other Bible translations have it, the “Helper” or “Comforter”. The Greek word behind this is parakletos, which means “one called alongside”, suggesting somebody who helps another. The opening verse of today’s Gospel reading explains something of how the Holy Spirit helps us. The Spirit testifies about Jesus, helping us to understand Christ’s life. For instance, Jesus said the Advocate would “prove the world wrong about sin”. The Spirit would help people to see that, while Christ endured a criminal’s execution, it was those who had rejected Jesus who were the sinners and not Christ himself. The Advocate would also help people to understand that, although Christ died in an inglorious fashion, this did not negate the claims that he had made about himself: the Spirit would reveal that Christ ascended to the Father after his death, proving he was, indeed, God’s Son. The Spirit also helped people to see that Jesus’ crucifixion was not a victory of evil over good, but the means by which Christ triumphed over the devil.
Our Gospel passage tells us that the Holy Spirit would reveal these truths to the world. The Spirit would do this through the preaching of the disciples. The Advocate came alongside them and helped them understand things about Christ that they had failed to grasp when he was with them. Once they fully perceived the wonder of what Christ had done and experienced the Spirit’s power, they were emboldened to share the good news with others. That is why Jesus could say it was to their advantage that he went away, for then he could send his Spirit to enable them.
Many of us have wished we could have met Jesus and spent some time asking questions. Sometimes it feels as if we have missed out compared with those who were lucky enough to have lived alongside our Lord. Yet today’s passage points out that far from lamenting our situation, we can rejoice, for what is available to us is infinitely better – we have Christ’s Spirit living within us, helping us to understand Jesus and giving us the strength to follow him.
The transformation of the disciples gives us all hope. They went from a timid group who struggled to understand Jesus’ message and hid away in fear, to leaders boldly preaching to thousands. Pentecost reminds us that there is a supernatural aspect to our faith, and this is not something to be feared but something to rejoice in, for the Spirit enables us all to be used by God regardless of our circumstances, weaknesses and struggles. Whenever we feel we are ineffective witnesses for Christ, let us not despair, but ask the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and empower us.