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gospel gospels

John 16:20-23

20 ‘In all truth I tell you, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. 21 A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you. 23 When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions. In all truth I tell you, anything you ask from the Father he will grant in my name.

“Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, lofty origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your brilliance penetrate into the darkness of my understanding and take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of both sin and ignorance.” Amen.

With the assistance of this prayer from Thomas Aquinas I am hopefully better prepared to reflect on this challenging passage from the Gospel of St. John. Jesus warns His friends that”…you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice…” Times seem to be good for the disciples of Jesus. The crowds have welcomed Jesus. Much good teaching and numerous miracles have been experienced. But, here at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus’ words are troubling. What is this about wailing and weeping while the world rejoices? They are enjoying fellowship with Jesus, and with each other, and Jesus is saying “you will be sorrowful.” Aren’t we like the disciples? For we don’t know what is yet to come and we celebrate today when tomorrow will bring suffering. We cannot read the signs of the times. We hear Jesus’ words but we often tune out the references to suffering and hardship. But Jesus never leaves us in despair. For he reminds the disciples, and us, that after the pain of childbirth the mother “…forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world.”

The story is about to move from the Upper Room to the garden where Judas’ betrayal will be completed with a kiss. The disciples don’t know this and I’m confident they are puzzled by Jesus’ words. There is soon to be great sorrow, with Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. The disciples will desert Him and go into hiding. And yet all is not lost. Jesus has said that in a short time they won’t see Him but they will see Him again. And He has also told them of the Comforter who is soon to come. Jesus follows his words of warning with words of hope: “…but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you.” Yes, the resurrected Lord will be with the disciples again and they will be full of joy. But what about us? Are our hearts full of joy? We have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, the Holy Spirit is with us and with Him we should have “joy no one shall take from you.” Do we have the joy of the mother when, after the suffering of childbirth, she sees her newborn child? Yes, we have the resurrected Jesus. We have the Holy Spirit. But, do we have Joy?

“When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions. In all truth I tell you, anything you ask from the Father he will grant in my name.” Does Jesus speak here of our days on earth or when we meet Him in His Father’s house? It seems “the day” has not come for me for I still ask Him many questions and what I ask of the Father is not always granted. I believe that in this final sentence of today’s Gospel Jesus is alluding to the time when we join Him in Heaven. This passage seems to address both our times of suffering here and our joyfully anticipated reunion with Jesus in Heaven. Jesus often seems to speak in “both/and” mode as opposed to “either/or.” Of course we wish it were easier to understand His teachings. We should pray to the Holy Spirit to increase our understanding of the Word of God and His words. And that our Joy may be complete.

I close with the rest of the prayer of Thomas Aquinas which began this reflection. Creator God, Three in One “…give me a sharp sense of understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations, and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in completion; through Christ our Lord. Amen”

Blessed Mary, Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

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