MAY 18, 2012 – FRIDAY 6TH WEEK OF EASTER:  JOHN 16:20-23

Some men have a gift for a popular wisdom that expresses at times in concise language that serves to counsel us regarding our behavior and in developing our values. Such advice can prove valuable to us at times provided we make their insights our own by reflection. They serve us well at times of need and opportunity, assisting to guide us in life situations that we encounter. Such wise sayings represent the fruit of much insightful reflection on the part of a person who has given studious and prayerful attention to a significant situation that proved instructive. A major part of the Hebrew Bible consists of such sayings, many concisely worded, some recorded at greater length. The Book of Proverbs and the writings of Ben Sirach are dense with sayings of this type that were understood to have been formed under the influence of inspiration by the Spirit of God. Many of the observations and teachings of these works are as true and potentially useful today as they were at the time they were first devised.  One example among many that show such insight states: ‘Who will boast that he has a pure heart? And what man is confident that he is pure from sin?” (Prov. 20:9) The implications of this observation are vast and potentially life-changing. One does not appreciate the wisdom this statement condenses, however, without earnest and imaginative effort of thought.

Jesus himself had read and reflected on these books of Scripture as well as on the prophetic writings. His mind and character were marked in some measure by their style as well as by their content. In today’s Gospel He compares his coming death and subsequent resurrection to childbirth. “When a woman is in labor she is in anguish . . . but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.”    Rightly to appreciate our Lord’s fuller meaning here we need to recall that Saint John has told us that while Jesus himself knew he was about to die and that he would rise shortly after, the apostles themselves could not realize that truth. Such an event was simply beyond their imagination. All that Jesus is telling his closest associates in his ministry in this Gospel passage is spoken in light of his imminent departure. For his words to be grasped in their full meaning it is necessary to believe in a transcendent world into which they are to follow their Lord after he rises from the dead. He continues his instructions to his disciples after having earlier assured them that they are intimately united with him like the tendrils of a fine are one with the stock, Though he is about to leave them through death and then rise and ascend to the Father, yet he will remain present to them in his new way of being alive. to be eternal. “You will mourn but your grief will be turned to joy”, he assures them. The irony of his efforts to prepare his followers for seeming failure and defeat arises from the fact that while we know he refers to his coming resurrection, yet his apostles remain uncomprehending. 

Jesus, as recorded and interpreted by John the Evangelist, like the inspired writers of wisdom books, has a unique way of conveying his message with expressions that suggest by implication far more that appears on the surface. Time and again his discourse illustrates this feature of our Lord’s mind and speech. Saint John deliberately sensitizes us to the hidden spiritual depths of our Lord’s discourse in the opening lines of his Gospel. There he informs us that he who is the central figure of this Gospel is in fact the eternal Logos through whom all things are made. While he becomes flesh, he remains the only begotten Son of the eternal Father.  His speech, accordingly, reflects the wisdom of God, so that after being enlightened Saint Paul was able to tell the Corinthians that Christ Jesus is himself “the power and the wisdom of God for those who are saved.”

And so when Jesus says to his disciples in another passage on this same occasion that “I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” he gives us assurance that their preaching reveals to us the “deep things of God” as Paul puts it, that men consider foolishness. However, he further comments that by the cross God has made the wisdom of this world foolishness. In our times we do well to take encouragement from these teachings of our faith. Let us thank God at this Eucharist for guiding us by these words that reveal the hidden secret of eternal life. As we take them and their implications into our heart by reflection in prayer, we gain assurance that the society being increasingly formed by the wisdom of this world evident in our political leaders and in many of the scientists and educators in our universities are in fact demonstrating the same blindness that Paul encountered in pagan society. He summed up his evaluation of their views in sharply worded lines: “Has not God made the wisdom of this world foolish? For because in the wisdom of God the world has not known God by wisdom, it has pleased God by the foolishness of our preaching to save those who believe.”(1Cor 1:20, 21) By our fidelity to the Gospel may we be among their number. W

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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