Who has it worse in America; African Americans or women? This was the premise of a season 3 episode of 30 Rock. While comically shedding light on the inequality and injustices experienced by both communities; characters Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney spend the episode have a constant fight over who has it worse until their boss and CEO, Jack Donaghy, steps in to correct them that white men have it the hardest in America.
This might be the most comedic part of the episode.
As we turn to this Sunday’s Gospel lection, we are brought back to Christ pre-crucifixion; his farewell discourse. Perhaps a strange passage for Eastertide, Christ’s final discourse in John gives a necessary perspective on post-resurrection life. While the disciples couldn’t comprehend what Christ was speaking about at the time, going back to his final words allows us to gather his reflections on what it means to be his follower after the resurrection.
And when you read chapters 14-16 straight through they can get exasperating. John has composed so beautifully this discourse. It’s obvious that Jesus is going to be leaving them soon and is trying to get out as much important information as possible. It’s almost data overload with the various pericopes having little apparent connection.
Verses 15-21 are a necessary read for us Eastertide folks because Jesus is connecting his resurrection with his sending of the Holy Spirit. As we will be moving to pentecost in just two Sundays, this passage is a necessary bridge. In it Jesus tells his disciples that he will be leaving them, that he’ll be back, and that he’ll be leaving them again. He tells them to follow his commandments; for that is the true evidence of love for Christ.
Let’s tease that out a bit, shall we? Jesus said that evidence of love for him, and therefore, love from the father, is to follow his commandments. What, then, are the commandments of Christ? Matthew tells us that all of the law and the prophets hang on these two; love the Lord with all that you are, and love your neighbor. (Mathew 22:37-40) And John tells us one chapter earlier that disciples will be known by the way they love one another.
Apparently, the commandments of Christ are to love. To be loved by Christ and the Father, and to receive the Holy Spirit, we must be those who love!
Despite Jesus saying that he’s leaving and then leaving again, he tells the disciples that he’s not leaving them. (Is that confusing?) He tells them he’s leaving them another Advocate (NRSV, NIV), Comforter (KJV), Helper (NASB, ESV), or Friend (MSG). There are times that our Greek New Testament keeps important Hebrew words of phrases in Hebrew (like Hosanna). Maybe a best practice for us would be for us to do the same. Maybe we should just leave this as “Paraclete,” because the meaning of this word is so varied and multifaceted. All of the different translations we see for Paraclete are all correct. A Paraclete was one who comforted, it was one who advocated, it was even one who provided legal representation. It was one who spoke for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
While Jesus may have been leaving the disciples, he would not leave them orphaned. The Paraclete was a means by which they could see Christ, and the Paraclete would never leave them.
Now, if you hadn’t seen the picture to the right of this essay, let me tell you right now. I am neither African American nor a woman. I will not begin to pretend to understand the particular challenges and complexities of being African American or a woman in the United States. But what our episode of 30 Rock illustrates is that, while many people may have it difficult, sometimes we want our group to have it the worst; we sometimes make persecution a competition.
There is a hamartiological reflection here; sin can be so pervasive that we want our pain and persecutions to be greater than other people’s.
Enter many North American Christians. Maybe you’ve been in situation similar to this: Upon discussing the particular challenges Muslims face in America, someone is there to make sure you don’t forget that Christians have it hard in America too. To be frank, I have a hard time believing Christians in America face any real persecution. I believe it is unfair to Christians around the world whose lives are threatened or taken to call a declining cultural influence persecution.
Can we be confessional? This persecution competition is brought to the surface by this Sunday’s pericope because all too often we want to be our own advocates. On too many occasions we Christians in America gripe about our situation, advocating for ourselves, promoting ourselves. We from the Wesleyan tradition; those who emphasize the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit ought to know better.
Does John record Jesus telling his disciples to advocate for themselves, to comfort themselves, to speak on behalf of themselves, or to represent themselves?
I may argue that if we are our own advocates we haven’t experienced the full sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. For it is the Holy Spirit that is our Paraclete. It is the Holy Spirit who who speaks on our behalf. Maybe the representation of the Holy Spirit isn’t to the governing authorities – the principalities and powers of this world. But maybe that’s ok! Because the Holy Spirit, along with our Christ, advocates and represents us to the Father! Is this not so much better than representation to governing officials?
Here is what is true; there are many in our lives without advocates or representation. There are many who face challenges to continue to live because they don’t have those who will bring comforting representation and advocacy. It seems to me that we who have received the Paraclete need not worry so much about our own representation as those who have none. We who testify to the sanctifying work of Christ in our lives know who comforts and represents us. Ours then, is to comfort and represent others!
As we have a heavenly Paraclete, may we be a paraclete to others in our world. After all, this is evidence of our love for Jesus!
 30 Rock. Season 3. “Believe in the Stars.”