Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Homily for May 5th, 2016: John 16:16-20.

          “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me,’” Jesus’ disciples ask one another. “We do not know what he means.” How often preachers, and readers of the gospels as well, repeat that statement; if not aloud, at least in thought: “We do not know what he means.” Not everything in Scripture is clear, simple, or obvious, by any means.

          If we believe that Jesus spoke these words in connection with the Last Supper, then Jesus’ “little while” would refer to the time between Jesus’ burial and his resurrection on the third day. That is the view of most of the Eastern Church Fathers. There is a difficulty with this interpretation, however. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy,” adding two verses later: “Then your hearts will rejoice, with a joy that no one can take from you;” and thereafter “You will have no more questions to ask me.” (vs. 22f) However, the appearances of the risen Lord to his friends were transitory and brief. Were they not only sufficient to give Jesus’ friends “a joy that no one can take from you,” but also to justify Jesus’ further statement that “you will have no more questions to ask me”?

St. Augustine solves this difficulty by saying that Jesus’ “little while” is the period between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return at the end of time in glory. This overlooks the joy which his friends experienced as soon as they saw him alive again, in flesh and blood – though also so changed that at first most did not recognize him.

We need not choose between these two interpretations. There is truth in both. Jesus’ resurrection appearances did indeed fill his friends with joy. But only at the end of time will we have no more questions to ask him. Meanwhile we thank God the Father for raising his Son from the dead, but also for the Son’s promise, which we shall hear in Saturday’s gospel: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”