Lectio Divina: John 16:20-23a
1) Opening prayer
Lord God, merciful Father,
it is hard for us to accept pain,
for we know that You have made us
for happiness and joy.
When suffering challenges us
with a provocative "why me?"
help us to discover the depth
of our inner freedom and love
and of all the faith and loyalty
of which we are capable,
together with, and by the power of,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - John 16:20-23a
Jesus said to his disciples: "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; 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. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you."
• During these days between the Ascension and Pentecost, the Gospels of the day are taken from chapters 16 to 21 of the Gospel of Saint John, and form part of the Gospel called: “The Book of Consolation or of the Revelation acting in the Community” (Jn 13:1 to 21:31). This Book is divided as follows: the farewell to the friends (Jn 13:1a to 14:31); witness of Jesus and prayer to the Father (Jn 15:1 to 17:28); and the accomplished work (Jn 18:1 to 20:31). The environment of sadness and expectation: sadness, because Jesus leaves and nostalgia invades the heart; expectation, because the hour is coming for receiving the promised gift, that of the Consoler who will make all sadness disappear and will once again bring the joy of the presence of Jesus in the midst of the community.
• John 16:20: The sadness will be transformed into joy. Jesus says, “In all truth I tell you: you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” The frequent references to sadness and suffering express the environment of the communities at the end of the first century in Asia Minor (present day Turkey), for whom John wrote his Gospel. They lived in a difficult situation of persecution and oppression, which caused sadness. The Apostles had taught that Jesus would return soon, but the “parousia,” the glorious return of Jesus, had not happened and persecution increased. Many were impatient: “Until when?” (cf. 2 Thess 2:1-5; 2 Pet 3:8-9). A person bears suffering and persecution when he/she knows that suffering is the way and the condition to attain perfect joy. Thus, even having death before his/her eyes, the person bears and faces suffering and pain. This is why the Gospel makes this beautiful comparison with the pangs of childbirth.
• John 16:21: The comparison with pangs of childbirth. All understand this comparison, especially mothers: “The woman in childbirth suffers because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world.” The suffering and sadness caused by persecution, even without offering any chance of improvement on the horizon, are not the death rattle, but rather the pangs of childbirth. Mothers know all this by experience. The pain is terrible, but they bear it, because they know that the pain, the suffering, is a source of new life. So is the suffering of the persecution of Christians, and thus, any suffering should be lived in the light of the experience of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
• John 16:22-23a: Eternal joy. Jesus explains the comparison: “So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy and that joy no one shall take from you”.” When that day comes, you will not ask Me any questions. This is the certainty that gives courage to the tired and persecuted communities of Asia Minor and which makes one exult with joy in the midst of suffering and pain. As the poet says, “It hurts, but I sing!” Or as the mystic Saint John of the Cross says, “In a dark night, with an inflamed yearning for love, oh happy venture, I went out without being noticed, in my house all slept!” The expression on that day indicates the definitive coming of the Kingdom which brings with it its clarity. In the light of God, there will no longer be need to ask anything. The light of God is the full and total response to all the questions which could arise within the human heart.
4) For Personal Consideration
• “On that day you will not question Me about anything.” The joy and love of the reality is greater than all of the questions of “how can this be”, rendering them mute. Do I question “how can this be?”, or am I satisfied with the presence of Jesus in my life?
• Pangs of childbirth. This experience is found in the origin of life of each one of us. My mother suffered the pain with hope, and this is why I am alive. Stop and think about this mystery of life and how it recurs in faith, as in the dark night of Saint John of the Cross.
• Am I weeping and mourning right now, or am I rejoicing, or am I in between, lukewarm, being not one way or the other? What does this say about my relationship with Jesus? How would people around me answer this about me?
5) Concluding Prayer
Clap your hands, all peoples,
acclaim God with shouts of joy.
For Yahweh, the Most High, is glorious,
the great king over all the earth. (Ps 47:1-2)