‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.’ Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ They said, ‘What does he mean by this “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, ‘Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”? Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. 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. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.’
Leonardo DaVinci painted “The Last Supper” according to his imagination, but John paints this scene as an eyewitness. Since chapter 13, Jesus has been teaching these men in light of His coming arrest, torture, and death. He’s been trying to prepare them for what is to come and strengthen them in light of the radically new work God is doing.
But as we see, the disciples are confused, both by the cryptic language and his mention of “going to the Father”. We need to remember that these men had no idea that this would be their last night with Jesus. They still expected Jesus to lead a military revolution against the Romans.
It would only be a matter of hours before Jesus would be taken from them, and only a matter of days before they saw Him again, risen from the dead.
Jesus knows exactly what these disciples are discussing. He knows they’re confused about all this in “a little while” language. Jesus does not fill in the blanks in terms of details about his imminent departure and reappearance. He focuses not on what will happen, but on how they will respond to what happens.
His absence will give them sorrow. But this is not the kind of sorrow you have when the dog chews up your favourite slippers. No! This sorrow produces weeping and lamenting. The absence of Jesus will even be a source of rejoicing for “the world”, for those opposed to the truth of God that Jesus has been revealing.
But Jesus also gives them good news: their sorrow will quickly turn into joy. He does not say that their sorrow will be replaced by joy. Their sorrow will “turn into” joy. The sorrow of a woman in labour is not eventually replaced by some unrelated joy. No, her sorrow, her pain, is purposeful! The miracle of a baby, of new life puts everything into perspective.
In the same way, Jesus wants to encourage these men to hold on; not to give up hope when the darkness of His death covers them. They WILL see Jesus again, and His reappearance will mean rejoicing like they’ve never rejoiced before.
You work in such wonderful ways, Lord. I trust that You will take that which brings sorrow in my life and make it a source of joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Ann Barton, Lay Leader at Whittlesford URC in the Eastern Synod