Can you handle the truth?
Tonight we remember Ephrem of Edessa, a deacon in the early church. Ephrem was known as “The Harp of the Holy Spirit” for the many hymns he wrote. It is believed that he attended the Council of Nicaea (325). He lived and served in Nisibis until the Persians captured the city and drove out the Christians. He moved to a cave in the hills above Edessa and lived the ascetic life, existing on barley bread, herbs, and water and dressed in rags. He wrote extensively and preached in Edessa. During a famine in 372-373, he distributed food and money to the poor and even organized an ambulance service for the sick. He died of exhaustion from his long hours of relief work.
The Gospel reading for tonight is particularly appropriate for this week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. Jesus tells his disciples (and us) a little about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, as well as giving insight into the relationship of the Trinity.
Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus by expounding him, just as Jesus had glorified his Father by expounding Him. In other words, the Spirit takes what God the Father had given to Jesus and explains it to the disciples. (“Unpacking” it, we might say.) The Spirit works on the disciples’ minds so that they can understand Jesus and then tell others what they have learned.
It sometimes seems that the personality of the Spirit is a little shadowy for us.(“Holy Spirit”? “Holy Ghost”?) This is actually very appropriate when you think about it because the Spirit never draws attention to himself. His job is to be like John the Baptist in that his ministry always points to Jesus.
In this particular passage, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth and he says the Spirit will guide us into all truth. Jesus had said earlier that if you are his disciple and live by his teaching, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
So, what does Jesus mean by “truth” here?
Where do we seek truth and how is it still hidden or forgotten for us?
How does the Holy Spirit reveal truth to us today?
A few years ago, I was wrestling with some difficult problems in my life and had gone to my priest for counseling. As we were heading out the door at the close of one session, I remember him saying, as rather a parting shot: “Well, you know what you need to do.”
At the time, that comment frustrated me terribly! If I already knew what I needed to do, why would I be seeking his counsel?
As it turned out, I think at some level, deep down, I did know what I needed to do to act on the situation and I think I made the right choice in the path I chose to follow.
Even if you haven’t seen the movie “A Few Good Men,” I’m sure you have seen that iconic courtroom dialogue between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise. Cruise as the prosecutor has Nicholson on the stand and has backed him into a corner in his cross examination. He finally demands answers and says: “I want the truth!”
Nicholson responds: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
I think that’s true for us sometimes. It’s more than we can bear. We have hard choices to make, difficult actions to undertake, bad news that we know is coming. Or, it may not necessarily be bad news. We may be challenged to grow and stretch and use talents and abilities that we aren’t altogether sure we possess, and we draw back, afraid of what might be required of us.
We say we are looking for answers but really we don’t want the truth if it is going to be hard. We don’t want to handle the truth. We want to write our own story the way we think it should turn out, even when, deep down, we know that that will be fiction and not real life.
But the Holy Spirit is right along with us, patiently trying to lead us into truth. I know for me there have been times when I have been forced to make a hard choice or finally ask a difficult question when I didn’t want to hear the answer. And when that decision was made or the answer to the question came, I knew it was OK. It resonated within me, like casting a pebble out on water and seeing the circles grow and expand. I knew it was OK and that I was going to be OK. And I believe that was the Holy Spirit.
But remember that the Holy Spirit does not force himself on us. Sometimes we just need to be still and listen for his guidance. Sometimes we need to be aware of own physical response to choices; I think the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the reality of our bodies, which carry more wisdom than our busy minds know. Trust that the Holy Spirit is leading you to your Truth and as Jesus said, this is the truth that will set you free to be the person God has created you to be.