Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Pius X Church, NOLA
They disciples are confused. . .as they often are. Jesus says something completely befuddling and his poor students are left muttering among themselves, trying to figure out what he's what he means. Since the disciples are often confused by Jesus' cryptic statements and non-answers to their questions, you'd think that they would eventually learn to just smile, nod, and pretend to understand when he comes out with one of his weird parables or mysterious revelations. But they persevere and soldier on toward learning whatever it is that Jesus is trying to teach them. One of the truths that Jesus has been trying (unsuccessfully) to teach his disciples is that all that they need to know to be preachers of the gospel won't be available to them until he has gone to the Father. Only after he has ascended to heaven can the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, descend upon them and give them the tongues of fire they will need to preach. So, Jesus prophesies, “. . . .you will weep and mourn [at my departure]. . .you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” Before joy comes grief.
In his prophecy to the disciples Jesus notes that “while the world rejoices [at my departure]; you will grieve. . .” And it is not too difficult for us to imagine that the Jewish leaders and Roman officials are indeed very relieved to see Jesus die on the cross. First century Judea under Roman occupation was a seething hotbed of violent revolution, religious strife, and political corruption. The last thing any in charge wanted or needed was another messianic figure throwing bombs. However, when Jesus says that “the world” will rejoice at his departure, he isn't talking about the temple and empire only. “The world” is the term used in scripture to mean something like “all that is ruled by darkness,” the realm that has not yet surrendered to God. This darkened parcel of creation is under the influence of the Enemy, and plots behind the scenes to tempt, influence, and corrupt those creatures who have come into the Lord's holy family. If the world sees Jesus as just another prophet sent by God to corral His wayward people, then Jesus' death on the cross could easily be taken as a victory for the Enemy and as an occasion for rejoicing among the damned. While the Enemy rejoices over a temporary victory, the Lord's disciples grieve over an equally temporary defeat.
Before joy comes grief. “A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.” That “little while” is the time for grieving. Just a little while. Why so short a time for mourning? How long can you mourn the passing of someone who's coming back “in a little while”? Does it even make sense to mourn the loss of someone you know will return? Jesus knows that his passing, his ascension will be taken hard by the disciples. He also knows that every assurance he can give them that he will return to them won't lessen their grief. Even the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the joy of knowing the “truth of all things” will prevent their mourning. They must mourn b/c they will preach to those who mourn. And they must preach against death, permanent death and the grief that follows it like a vulture. And then they must experience the fiery joy of the Holy Spirit b/c they must preach against falsehood, confusion, despair, and dissension. The disciples are confused by Christ's teachings b/c they have yet to receive the Spirit of Truth. They will. And we already have. Our time for mourning is up; our grieving, our frustration and aggravation are done. It is time to preach the joy of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ Jesus.
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