”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 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.
”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
I live very far away from the United States on the Southern Coast of Africa. Yet despite the distance, thanks to the wonders of television and the excellence (most times) of the film and television industry, I am very familiar with many things American. I still prefer cricket to baseball, even if you can play the game for five days and still not get a result! I also prefer Rugby to Gridiron, probably because you can see Rugger players bleed more profusely without all that padding and those helmets!
One of the aspects of American life that I have seen and heard often is the Miranda warning. Often dramatised in movies at the point of arrest, the officer of the law has to say: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” I have heard the Miranda warning so often that I could almost recite it verbatim, despite never having been arrested.
What I didn’t know and what Wikipedia informed me of, was the origins of the warning. In 1966 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Ernesto Arturo Miranda who was arrested for rape and kidnapping, had his rights violated in the way he was arrested and tried. (He was subsequently retried and convicted). The Miranda warning came to bear his name.
Reading the gospel for this Sunday I couldn’t help feeling that I was witnessing Jesus coaching his disciples with a Miranda like warning.
Before getting into that discussion it is worth noticing how Jesus turns the common understanding of commandment keeping on it’s head. Most Christian teachers tend to imply that if we keep the commandments that will enable Jesus to love us. That is not the truth. We keep the commandments (the promises of our committed relationship to Jesus – loving God and our neighbour as we love ourselves) not to make Jesus love us but because we love Jesus. Jesus loves us into keeping the commandments.
However in the keeping of the commandments to love, in repaying the debt of love that St Paul speaks about in Romans 13:8, we sometimes miss the target (the core meaning of the word “sin” is an archery term “to miss the mark you were aiming for”) At these moments of failure to love, the accuser, the oppositional energy, Satan will try to indict us. At this point we need to know our rights.
Our right to remain silent
The gift of contemplative living is that it cultivates an awareness that silence is most often the best response to accusations. Whether the accusations come from without or within, to be silent is to allow wisdom to slowly brew up within that silence. I have found that if I can withstand the knee-jerk impulse to justify myself or argue my own defence, then most often a deeper and more skilful response is forthcoming which I am sure is my helper’s words and not mine.
Our right to an attorney
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever”
If ANOTHER helping attorney is coming it implies a prior one, who must be the speaker, Jesus. The one who justifies us and who pleads our case is Jesus. His Holy Spirit is an ongoing attorney who explains our rights and who silences the indictment of the accuser.
Our right as Children of God
If we stopped here I believe we would miss the point of this teaching of Jesus. The paraclete, helping advocate, the Holy Spirit is not with us and in us only to argue our case against the accuser.
The Holy Spirit makes our case for freedom on the basis that we are not orphaned, dislocated beings cast adrift and at the mercy of any and every accusation that may be thrown at us. The Holy Spirit is after all the attorney that affirms our divine status as children of God.
When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
It would seem to me that this case is never coming to trial. The evidence of our failures, so easily used to accuse and indict us, does not in any way threaten, dilute or invalidate our grace given status as God’s children.
So any accusation that may come is not directed against an orphan with no standing in the community; rather, it is an accusation against a child of God. I wonder who would risk even trying that! This is of course difficult for us to understand where the law in our day shows no favourites, but in biblical times familial affiliation was a factor in applying the law. For example in Leviticus 21 we read “No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives,2except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother; 3likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her.”
It would seem that our association with this Holy Spirit Advocate brings with it a winning argument against condemnation, as well as immunity from judgement by accusation.
Could the Christian’s Miranda Warning be something like this…?
You can keep silent as long as it takes to stop your fear from speaking. When you do then choose to speak, tell everyone who accuses you of your failures to love that you are trying, by the life of God in you to get it right each time. However, when you do fail, it in no way invalidates your status as God’s child who can try as many times as you like without penalty to be more like Jesus your master.
Now that is Divine Justice.