Jean’s Gospel: A Little While…
“ ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and, “because I am going to the Father”?’ So they were saying, ‘What does he mean by “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about.’ Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, “A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me”? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.’ ” (John 16:16-22)
The words, “a little while” are three key words, which Jesus wished to impress on His disciples. These words are repeated seven times in this passage. They signify Jesus’ promise to His disciples that what they were about to face would be temporary, and their suffering would give birth to something far greater. When all seemed lost and grief unbearable, the disciples were to cling to three little words: “a little while.”
Jesus’ Passion was not a bump in the road of the disciples’ lives. Jesus asked His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. The disciples entrusted themselves to Jesus, body and soul, even if they did not yet fully understand Him. To them Jesus was their Lord, father, teacher, friend and companion. As Peter, speaking for the disciples, earlier said: “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mark 10:28)
When someone close to you dies, it may feel as though part of you died with them. The closer a person was to you, the more of their life you shared with them, the more of you may seemingly die with them. Death is a brutal enemy when it signifies the end of life and hope, when it signifies eternal separation from God. For the disciples, who had cleaved to Jesus, like a bride to her Bridegroom, the coming loss of Jesus would feel like death and hell to the disciples.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a)
The sorrow the disciples would feel would be magnified by the world’s joy at getting rid of Jesus. The world and its prince would celebrate its apparent victory over Jesus at Golgotha: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ ” (Matt 27:39-40)
It strikes us as despicable that anyone would mock, cheer or celebrate the torture and execution of any human being. How would the disciples cope with their loss when the world around them is rejoicing at Jesus’ death? Besides the sheer terror of being found out, would they capitulate to the popular narrative that Jesus was a false messiah and they had gotten it all wrong?
Peer pressure is a powerful force for evil. We see it today all the time. When we are lured into sin, we turn away from Christ. When we snicker at the scandal befalling a pastor or church, we turn away from Christ. When we gossip about the broken marriage or business failure of a Christian brother, we turn away from Christ. Christ and His Gospel are despised by the world in every generation, and His own Christians are often tempted and join in.
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” (John 16:16)
Jesus would not prevent his disciples from sharing the agony of His Passion. This was the world into which He was sending them as His apostles. They needed to be prepared.
Jesus did not teach His disciples to deny or repress their suffering or sorrow. Feelings of joy and sorrow are part of what make us human beings made in the image of God. Jesus, who shared in our humanity through His incarnation, also had feelings. But when it came to His separation from them or the sorrow they would share on account of His death, Jesus taught his disciples to trust not in their feelings, but only His Word: “a little while and you will see me”; and “your sorrow will turn into joy.” Their experience would be like the pangs of a woman during childbirth. Sorrow and death would be swallowed up in joy and victory in “a little while.”
We have the privilege of knowing how the story unfolded and of Jesus’ triumph over death. We also have His post-Easter promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20b) So we will never be tested in exactly the same way as the disciples. However, many of us will experience intense grief in this life, which may test our faith and hope in Christ. This grief may be the result of personal tragedy, a sin or illness. Grief can feel eternal and lead one into total despair and unbelief, unless we cling to three little words given us by our Lord: “a little while.”
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)
Jesus left His disciples for a little while, so He could complete His vocation. He came as God’s Suffering Servant. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Is 53:4-5)
After a little while Jesus did see His disciples again and they rejoiced. By His resurrection Jesus defeated the devil and the powers of sin and death. This he accomplished for us: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor 15:22-23)
By rising from the dead, Jesus made good on his promise to the disciples. To us, His Christians, we have Jesus’ promise that all our sufferings and sorrows in this life are temporary. When we feel the heavy weight of our sufferings and sorrows, we must not trust our feelings or what the world says to us; we must trust only His three words: “a little while.”
Jesus has redeemed us. In Baptism He has received us into His Father’s family. In a little while our hearts will rejoice, and no one will be able to take our joy from us. Amen.
“Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”
(There is a Balm in Gilead, verse 1) Amen.