Jesus said, “A little while, and you will see me no more; again a little while, and you will see me.”
Some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, `A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, `because I go to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by `a little while’? We do not know what he means.”
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him; so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, `A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
“When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father, he will give it to you in my name. Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
“I have said this to you in figures; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure! Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
* * *
Once again we are revisiting a time before Christ’s passion when He makes reference to the things to come: His passion, death, and eventual return to the Father. Also, similarly to last week’s Gospel, the Apostles are all bewildered and concerned in hearing these sayings.
Christ warns them “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me…you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”
As confusing as it was for the Apostles, in a way it may be even more so for us. The possibilities of His meaning were limited to the Apostles since they were not able to know what the future holds. For us, we can see a bigger picture now that we live after the fact, and there are more interpretations available to us.
When He says “A little while you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me” is He speaking of His separation from the Apostles in death, and His reunion with them after the Resurrection? Or does He mean they will not see Him after His ascension to the Father, but will see Him again after their martyrdom? Perhaps He is referring to His second coming? Still another valid possibility could be that He is speaking in terms sacramental, as the corporal representative of the Church; it was only when the Apostles broke bread at Emmaus that they recognized Him – that is, saw Him with the eyes of faith in the sacrament of the altar – and returned to Jerusalem joyfully.
In each of these examples, we are also left to wonder why it is the world is rejoicing. Is the world rejoicing in His death? Or is He speaking of the world generically — how it rejoices in evil? If that is the case, that would mean the Church, the representative of Christ on earth, is lamenting because it is temporarily situated in this fallen world.
We read on, hoping to glean more from His next analogy, featuring a woman in travail. A moment ago, He was addressing the Apostles’ future dismal separation from Him, and also their eventual joyous reunion. If we were to follow through with the analogy, He is saying that it is through the Apostle’s painful labor or separation that the happy result (the child) will come. But it makes more sense to see Christ as the woman in travail, through Whose painful death will come the salvation of all mankind, His temporary earthly return, and His eventual heavenly reunion with both the Father and the Apostles.
Without clarifying, Christ continues: “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me.” With this piece of information He now gives us, the role of the newly born child in the last analogy seems to be seeing Christ again someday. And if no one can take that joy from them, then perhaps He means enjoying the eternal presence of God in Heaven, never to be separated from it again. To a certain extent, what He says could also be applied to this life as well, for although we cannot have the fullness of that union with God on earth, we can experience that happiness partially in our obedience to Him here.
At this point, Christ appears to deviate a final time in His discourse with the Apostles, by speaking of the Father, and His love for Christ, and the Father’s love for the Apostles insofar as they love Christ. This is right before He returns to what was seemingly His original message: that the Apostles will feel tribulation, but are advised to “be of good cheer” for He has come “that they may have peace”, and has “overcome the world.”
I think all of these threads, as confusing and disconnected as they may seem at first glance, are meant to be woven into a very intricate, but complete tapestry. I think in speaking of His passion, Christ speaks of the Church, for He is the corporal representative of the Church, and she must mirror His suffering. And in speaking of the Church, he speaks of each member individually, including the Apostles. The ultimate good is an eternally inseparable union with God, which can only come from loving Christ, Whom the Father loves. When we are united with God, we will have no need to ask for anything more, but until then, we must endure this world that rejoices in evil, and ask for whatever partial union with God we can attain in this life. Lastly, as difficult as it is to live in the present fallen world, we have cause for joy, because Christ has overcome the world, and we are not unloved by God.
The Fruit of His Labor
I also believe it is no coincidence that Christ uses the example of a woman giving birth for His analogy; in 3 weeks’ time, we will come to the feast of Pentecost, otherwise known as the Birthday of the Church. So in some sense, Christ is saying that His Passion and death will be akin to the travail of a woman, and likewise having similar results: the birth of something so beautiful, that the pain and suffering that brought it into existence are no longer remembered.