In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, while preparing his disciples for the Pentecost event, Jesus promises that he will send them “another advocate.”
Note carefully that Jesus refers to the anticipated Holy Spirit as “another” advocate, indicating that there has already been at least one previous advocate in their midst whose ministry they might not have fully appreciated.
Certainly Jesus should be included in any list of otherworldly advocates. Yet, Jesus would not be alone on this list. And when the other advocates are considered, the whole notion of advocacy becomes more obvious.
The Old Testament prophets would have to be included as advocates, as proponents and interpreters of the plan God has for his people. When the Jewish people forgot, ignored or defied God, he would raise up a prophet to remind them of his designs for them. Moses was indeed a prophet, an advocate for God’s plan. Time and time again, he reminded the Jews in the desert of the noble calling to which God summoned them. Elijah was undeniably a prophet when he called the Jews of his generation back from the excesses of Ahab and Jezebel to the purity of the old-time religion. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel were definitely advocates for God when they warned their fellow citizens of the dangers of foreign alliances and the need for purer worship. Amos and Micah were advocates not only for social justice within the Jewish community but more important, they were advocates for God whose eternal justice the daily justice of the Jews reflected. St. John the Baptist accepted the role of advocate for Jesus Christ, announcing the Lamb of God and the arrival of the kingdom to the Jewish audiences of his day.
Jesus Christ, as one might expect, is the pre-eminent advocate in the Scriptures, promoting in his preaching an ethic of the Father, a mode of Christian conduct that would bring any observer towards a more intimate appreciation of the Father. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages behavior that runs entirely counter to human nature. Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, offer your cloak as well — these responses to life’s challenges defy human nature. They rely solely on God and his grace for a rationale. Jesus also relentlessly advocates persistence and perseverance in prayer — not as therapy for the devout but as an act of faith in God’s unfailing mercy. The salvific suffering and death of Jesus cannot be explained apart from total obedience to mysterious divine plan. Clearly God is central to the life of Jesus and God must be central in the life of anyone who would follow Jesus.
Now Jesus promises his church another advocate — the Holy Spirit — who will do for the church what the prophets did for the Jews in the Old Testament and what Jesus did for the multitudes in the New Testament. The task of the Spirit will be to keep the church focused on the Father, to make the church sensitive to the Father, to enable the church to reflect the Father at every turn. And this role of advocacy by the Spirit on behalf of the Father is vitally important for the church in history just as the role of the prophets and the ministry of Christ were important in their eras.
The ancient Jews constantly neglected the Father, led astray by the affluence of their pagan neighbors, placing more trust in armies and animals than in God. The multitudes that followed Jesus were easily misled, being more concerned with signs and wonders than with the God of whom these signs and wonders bespoke. And modern man obviously forgets God, sometimes through outright atheism and agnosticism and sometimes through worldliness and indifference. It is evident from ancient history and from contemporary history that God needs someone to speak up for him. Sadly, God needs an advocate — in his own world and even in his own church.
In a sinful world, God desperately needs someone to promote virtue. In a materialistic world, God greatly needs someone to sponsor the spiritual. In a faithless world, God seriously needs someone who will campaign for the next world. The task of the Spirit, the task of the new advocate and the task of all those whom the new advocate enlivens, is to be God the Father’s activist, God the Father’s campaigner, God the Father’s champion in the struggle to renew the face of the earth.