Sermon Prep. for John 16:16–33

The text this week is John 16:16–33, assigned as part of a series on the “very truly” sayings in John. These are initial notes and reflections on the text, co-text, and intertext before recourse to contextual materials and commentaries.

What does the assignment of a text do to the process of delimiting the interpretive boundaries of a passage? In this situation, an exegetical question is answered to some extent ahead of time. This is an interesting phenomenon of some ecclesial hermeneutics. Similarly, the thematic focus of the sermon series can serve as a unique lens. In this case, the “very truly” sayings of the passage shift the reader’s perspective.

16:20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.

16:23 Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.

At this stage, I am staining to hear. What would the Spirit say to the church about pain and joy and prayer? Jesus calls for our attention. What truth does he speak?

Text

Statement: 16 “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”

Misunderstanding: 17 Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and Because I am going to the Father?”  18 They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”  19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’?  

Response: 20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy [χαρὰν].

Clarification 1: 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy [τὴν χαρὰν] of having brought a human being into the world.  22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice [χαρήσεται], and no one will take your joy [τὴν χαρὰν] from you.  23 On that day [ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ] you will ask nothing of me.

Clarification 2: Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου], he will give it to you.  24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου]. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy [ἡ χαρὰ] may be complete.

Further clarification: 25 “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.  26 On that day [ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ] you will ask in my name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου]. I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;  27 for the Father himself loves [φιλεῖ] you, because you have loved [πεφιλήκατε] me and have believed [πεπιστεύκατε] that I came from God.  28 I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.”

Further Misunderstanding: 29 His disciples said, “Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe [πιστεύομεν] that you came from God.”

Clarification 3: 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe [πιστεύετε]?  32 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.  33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace [εἰρήνην]. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

Co-Text

The passage is part of the farewell discourse, so the co-text is fairly easy to delimit. We can expect substantial connections to the aboutness of the whole discourse. In this case, though, the discourse is extraordinarily recursive, so the thematic links are even more important.

14:18   “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  20 On that day [ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ] you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

14:27 Peace [Εἰρήνην] I leave with you; my peace [εἰρήνην] I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved [ἠγαπᾶτέ] me, you would rejoice [ἐχάρητε] that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.  29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe [πιστεύσητε].

15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  9 As the Father has loved [ἠγάπησέν] me, so I have loved [ἠγάπησα] you; abide in my love [τῇ ἀγάπῃ].  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love [τῇ ἀγάπῃ], just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love [τῇ ἀγάπῃ].  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy [ἡ χαρὰ] may be in you, and that your joy [ἡ χαρὰ] may be complete.

15:16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου].  17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love [ἀγαπᾶτε] one another.

———

17:6   “I have made your name [σου τὸ ὄνομα] known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου] that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name [ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου] that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy [τὴν χαρὰν] made complete in themselves.  14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

17:25   “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.  26 I made your name [ὸ ὄνομά σου] known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love [ἡ ἀγάπη] with which you have loved [ἠγάπησάς] me may be in them, and I in them.”

Intertext

The pattern of reversal, from despair to joy, reminds me of many of the psalms. In particular, Ps 126 resonates.

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
     we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter [χαρᾶς],
     and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
     “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
     and we rejoiced.
4   Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
     like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
     reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
     bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
     carrying their sheaves.

The creeds of the Great Tradition already guide my reading, but the Son’s explicit discussion of his relationship with the Father brings a strong intertextual relationship into view. In particular, the soteriological clause of the Nicene creed comes to mind.

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν κατελθόντα καὶ σαρκωθέντα και ενανθρωπήσαντα, Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis. Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.

How does John’s “so that” fill out the creed’s “for us men” with peace, love, and joy in the midst of suffering? How does the creed guide our understanding of the Son’s relation to the Father in our prayer?

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