Now here are comfortable words. Do not be troubled, do not be worried or upset-fortify yourselves by faith in God and the one whom he has sent. Yet we are troubled, worried and we are often upset about many things-some of these are large and important matters others appear trivial at least to others. All of them create feelings of distress and fear that gnaw at our souls so that we cease to be the people we could be.
We know what we are worried about but what might the first disciples have been worried about. And what might the first hearers of John’s gospel have been worried about. I see their worries under two heads:
First a fear of separation. Jesus is going. These words are addressed to the disciples by way of farewell. He is going and they cannot follow. Not at once at least. There is to be an absence almost a sense of desolation. Jesus admits as much.
How is this to be coped with? Can it be coped with?
Our own experiences of separation, of loss and bereavement crowd in upon us. How can our hearts not be troubled? It is not for nothing that this passage is usually read at funerals. Jesus tries to fortify his disciples but the death that he is to die is his own.
Secondly a fear of failure. We are always taught to read texts in context and immediately prior to this famous verse is the account of Jesus foretelling Peter’s denial before the cock crowed three times. Now there was failure! And the other disciples were no better. All forsook him and fled.
But our failures and theirs should be distinguished from God’s cause. As I never tire of saying we should be pessimistic about man but optimistic about God.
Jesus is going on ahead of his disciples. He is going to his death, which he has freely accepted. This death is necessary. It is the preparation that is made for those who will come after. This is the death that will break every barrier down so that the boundless love of the father can reach out to everyone, fill our hearts with love and change the world.
And it is the way that his disciples are called to follow. Yes Jesus does call his disciples to come and walk with him the way of the cross. And everyone who follows that way finds that by embracing the deaths we must die there truly is nothing to be afraid of and that death really is swallowed up in the victory of love.
In the life of the Church this is the Easter season. Our hearts should be full of joy and peace. In fact they are not. We are worried and perplexed. We have said many times that Christ is risen. But if he is risen where is he and is he coming soon. We have proclaimed the good news but the world goes on much as before. Could it all be our fault? Is our faith inadequate? Are we feeling to make progress? Is it our inadequacies that stand in the way of Christ’s return?
Jesus message to the first disciples and to us is reassuring. Have courage. Jesus can cope with our inadequacies. Jesus has just foretold that their leader Peter will fail-indeed that he will deny everything. Yet they are not to be distressed. Don’t believe in the wrong things he says.
Instead place your trust in Jesus, have confidence in the mystery of love revealed in the cross and the resurrection. Share his risen life, share his words and continue his works. You won’t be alone, instead be encouraged by all the signs of love that have been revealed to us in the last two months.