“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name —
he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Jn 14:26
Lawyer jokes are a staple of comedy. People love to poke fun at the perception of lawyers as sneaky, underhanded, power-hungry, greedy, or just plain shifty. But when you need a lawyer for yourself, you definitely want one who will pull out all the stops on your behalf! You want a lawyer who understands all the fine points of the process, how to “play the game,” so to speak. You want a lawyer who has connections with the right people. You want a lawyer who will fight, fight, and fight harder for you. Even if you are in the wrong, you still want to win.
This weekend the church celebrates Pentecost, remembering the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem. This Spirit had been promised by Jesus, described in the Gospel as an “advocate,” from the Greek word “paraclete.” This is taken from common Greek usage describing a defense attorney. In other words, the Holy Spirit is our lawyer.
If the metaphor here is that of a legal tribunal in which we stand in need of a good defense lawyer, it is because we have been accused. Who, then, is the accuser? The biblical tradition of both Testaments points to one figure who stands in that role: Satan. “Accuser” is one of the many names associated with the evil one. So is there any basis for his accusations? Of course not, because he is also known by another name, the “father of lies.” In this cosmic drama, we stand accused by a liar, whose untruths are powerful and persuasive.
Finally, of course, this metaphor requires one more figure — the judge. This is Christ, the Just Judge, who came into the world not to condemn us but to save us. This is the one before whose bench we stand, our excellent lawyer pleading our case in the face of the lies spoken against us by our accuser. This excellent lawyer, the Spirit of Truth, knows what is real and what is false. The Spirit, our lawyer, knows we can even be persuaded to believe these untruths about ourselves, so convincing our accuser can be.
Good thing for us the trial is rigged. Yes! The judge and our lawyer are on the same side — “in cahoots” as my mother used to say. We will prevail. Indeed, we already have. The “fix” is in.
Many things in our lives are simply unfair, leaving us hurt and broken. We have been dealt a bad hand, and sometimes we even become victims of our own undoing. Addictive behaviors can lead us to believe wrong things about ourselves, inner voices whispering shame and fear. Our place in our community, indeed the very social fabric itself, leaves us feeling torn away from its living core. We believe the lies of our accuser, who spreads untruths about ourselves and our community, and we fear the judge. We feel disgraced. Dis-graced, removed from grace.
On the first Pentecost, the disciples were huddled in fear. So very many times in scripture we find the believers in this state of fear! Two thousand years later, we still know what fear feels like — as an individual, and as a community. We fear our inner demons. We fear our neighbors. We fear the future. We fear the stranger. We fear for our jobs, our families, the streets of our neighborhoods, our environment. And in this fear, we feel alone, cast adrift with a sense of powerlessness that leads to anger and violence.
Oh, we sure need a good lawyer!
And we have one in the Advocate, the One whose Spirit stands with us, speaks through us, strengthens us to know and proclaim the truth before the world that also stands with us before the same Judge. The truth — that the Judge is merciful, that life and love prevail over death and hate, that we are not alone but radically united, and that peace with God, with others, within ourselves, and with all of creation is a gift already freely given to all who simply open themselves to its eternal possibilities.
As we draw this Easter Season to a close at Pentecost, let us ask again that the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, our lawyer, plead our case so that we can move from whatever makes us afraid and angry — and toward the merciful Judge who is life and love itself.