29 May
Jn 16:29-33

Jesus’ 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.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’

It was not the first time that disciples claimed to have perfect understanding.  Earlier in the gospel Peter had said, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:69).  The same Peter also claimed to be ready to lay down his life for Jesus (13:37).  Both claims proved to be more than a little premature. 

Ignorance is bliss, we say.  It is effortless and unlimited, a calm unruffled sea.  But knowledge has narrow boundaries that are the cause of endless argument and conflict.  Knowledge always drives you out of some kind of paradise and sets you against your brother.  Then begins the long futile struggle to regain that infinite calm… by knowing everything.  It is ultimately futile because everyone, even the most learned, remains ignorant – only about different things.  And so the wisest words of all are “I don’t know.”  Socrates wanted to know who was the wisest person in Athens.  The Delphic Oracle said, “You are!”  “That is impossible,” replied Socrates, “because I am aware that I know nothing.”  “That,” said the Oracle, “is why you are the wisest person in Athens.”

Those disciples of Jesus thought they had finally understood everything about him.  They were full of confidence – because they had not yet seen the cross.  “The cross of Christ,” as Paul would see so clearly later on, “is foolishness,” but this foolishness is God’s wisdom.  “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world…? Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (I Cor 1:18-24).   Before the crucifixion the disciples thought they finally had it all together, that they had Jesus in a kind of frame; but he promised them that they would be scattered.  They would all be scattered until they were gathered again beyond the cross by the Risen Christ. 

In the New Community, the Church, it is a new kind of knowledge that will hold them together: a knowledge that doesn’t look like knowledge at all.  The mystics through the ages have spoken of it from experience.  “The mind is amazed at the extent of all it can understand,” wrote St Teresa of Avila, “for God wills it to realise that it understands nothing of what he represents to it.”


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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