Turning to God for the help we need – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 16:23b-28

It can be difficult to rightly interpret a text when we’re given just a snippet of it, as we are in today’s gospel reading.  To better understand it, we need to see it in its broader context.

These verses are part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, given to his disciples after the Last Supper and before his betrayal and trial.  He has told them that “in a little while” they will not see him and “in a little while” they will see him again.  Naturally, the disciples are confused about what this could mean and struggle to grasp the reality that he is about to leave them.

It is unclear, too, what John is referring to when he records these words of Jesus that he will go away and then come again.  Does this refer to Jesus dying and then being raised?  Does it refer to his ascension into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit (a major theme in the farewell discourse)?  Does it refer to Jesus coming again in glory at the end of time?  We’re not sure.  It may refer to all three.  John is used to speaking to his readers on different levels, so he could have all three of these possibilities in mind.

Notice that there is a kind of apocalyptic reversal here: when he goes away, Jesus says, his disciples will “weep and mourn” but the world – i.e. Jesus’ enemies – “will rejoice” (16:20).  It will seem for a time as if Jesus’ enemies have prevailed, but then, Jesus promises them, “Your pain will turn into joy.”  He likens it to childbirth, noting that a woman in labor has pain, “but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world” (16:21).  In the same way, says Jesus, “you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). Read More