Because the original Greek word itself, namely Parakletos, is a bit exotic and even puzzling, older versions of the New Testament left it untranslated. More recent attempts have offered an alternative English term in an effort to convey the wonder of the gift promised by Jesus to his disciples throughout the ages… sometimes “Advocate,” or “Counselor” or even “Consoler.”
In a very literal sense, the Greek word suggests someone able to be “called to one’s side.” Perhaps deliberately, the idea leaves open the various human situations from which one might desperately and urgently call out for help.
If one needed advice, for example, to sort out a vexing situation or to make a difficult decision, one might call for a counselor. If the issue is rather the need for an ally to put in a good word (like asking Mom to help argue for the car keys on a given Friday night), then the person called to one’s side might indeed be an advocate. If, however, one simply needed some comfort and consolation in a moment of great pain, then consoler or healer would be the precise assistance desired!
Thus the same Greek word could be translated properly and accurately by any of these notions! It is a great description for the Holy Spirit who brings so many different gifts of wisdom and who fulfills so many diverse functions in our lives.
Jesus pointed out that the same promised Parakletos is also the Spirit of Truth! Whether offering advice or putting in a good word or providing comfort in a tough situation, the Spirit speaks the truth, something not always welcome or appreciated! Requesting and receiving such a Spirit requires no small dose of courage too!
The Spirit of Truth might be patient with our foibles and human limitations, but God’s Spirit does not easily tolerate whining, self pity or grudging resentment. Moreover, God’s Spirit doesn’t bear fools easily. That also takes some courage on our part, especially if the foolishness is our own.
On many occasions the Apostle Paul suggests that as a result of the gift of the Spirit we ourselves become actual temples for the presence of God. For anyone living in the ancient world where cities were filled with countless stunning white marble temples to gods and goddesses beyond number, it was an easy leap of imagination and a facile metaphor.
Our American individualism is usually content to understand the reference to God’s Spirit dwelling within our individual hearts and minds. The fact of the matter is that Paul’s insistence that “you are the Temple of God,” is in the plural … and that we ought to understand that same Spirit as dwelling among us and amid us as an entire community of interrelated beings, not merely isolated individuals.
God’s Spirit is the cement and glue which brings us together and holds us together … by such gifts as forgiveness, compassion, truth and justice as well as by the more obvious communal gifts of unity, peace and love. I often think that the gifts of the Spirit are between us more than within us.
In any case, whether within, between or beside, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is a mighty power in our midst as well as at our side … and one to be ardently sought and warmly cherished especially when that gift might unsettle us or make us uncomfortable by challenging the convenient status quo of life.