Hello! As you may know, each Friday I write a short commentary on an assigned passage from the Anglican daily office lectionary for a friend who provides his parish with a daily devotional by email. Normally I try to write these and record them onto YouTube on Fridays, but things got out of hand in the last few days, so there you are.
The passage in question is John 16.23b-30. The NRSV text (courtesy of www.oremus.org) follows, and after that my comments. I hope that they are helpful to you in some way, and would love to hear your thoughts and responses.
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.
‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father. On that day you will ask in my name. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.’
His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’
In today’s passage from John’s gospel, these are among the last words that Jesus speaks to the disciples before his arrest, death, and resurrection. The passage begins with Jesus speaking of a “day” to come, it would seem in the near future, when his relationship to the Father will be fully revealed in plain language. In the last lines of our passage, the disciples seem confident that this day has in fact arrived, but they are mistaken.
In the chapter that follows (Jn 17) Jesus turns his gaze to heaven and speaks directly to the Father, praying that “the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn 17.23). We know what the disciples don’t yet know, that the full glory of Jesus and the full love of the Father will be revealed, not in words, but in the grim visual language of a tortured body lifted high on the cross, as Jesus has previously predicted he would be (Jn 12.32-33).
Surely it is in the context of the cross that we have to understand Jesus’ words about asking “anything of the Father in my name” so that “your joy may be complete” (Jn 16.23-24). The cross, which is about self-giving love, vulnerability, and forgiveness, should temper our expectations about how our prayers will be answered. The cross tells us that we are not guaranteed some earthly security or prosperity. The Father’s love works altogether differently.
Today’s passage asks us to pray trusting that Jesus is exactly who he says he is. It asks us to pray trusting, as Jesus trusts, in the Father’s will and love for us. It asks us to surrender what we may want in return for what God wants for us. Imagine yourself praying in such a manner, and then ask yourself, how could my joy be complete if I put myself in the Father’s hands, as Jesus does?