Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. . . . I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise let us go hence.
John 14: 27; 30-31
One of the most important tasks of caring for and parenting children is the task of reassurance. When a child is ill, or has awakened from a nightmare, or has suffered or is facing a great difficulty or loss, the caretaker instinctively says to her or him, “It’s going to be okay.” It is our everyday equivalent of the insight of the mystic Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” It is such reassurance that Jesus gives to the disciples in today’s passage from John’s gospel.
As we well know, however, the context of Jesus’ words is his impending passion and death. It is at once true that “the ruler of this world is coming” and that “he has no power over me.” The uneasiness of the reassurance we offer those we care for and love is due to the fact that we know that “the ruler of this word” will manifest in their and our lives. We are stirred from deep within to say that things will be alright, but we are also painfully aware that there is no avoiding th evil and suffering which lies before them.
The peace which Jesus promises lies in the truth of his communion with the Father, and in turn ours. The ruler of this world has no power over Jesus because he lives at one with the loving will of the Father. It is a peace that remains, even as Jesus experiences the fear of Gethsemane and the sense of abandonment of Calvary. To spend the moments of our life doing “as the Father has commanded” us is living in that same love. In all that Jesus will undergo, he will manifest love for God, and in so doing, manifest the love of God to the world. This is the love that the life of Jesus in us allows us to share through every experience of our own lives.
A few years ago I visited my cousin in the hospital just days before her death. Although not a religious person in the conventional sense, she lived her life in great faith, hope, and love, with a consistent dedication to her family and a profound good nature that communicated always a deep love and hope. As I left her and leaned close to kiss her goodbye, she smiled at me and said: “Johnny, we’re all going to be alright.” Clearly she did not mean that she was not going to die. She did, however, mean that we could, and she did, know a peace that the world cannot give. We can know that peace to the degree that we live our lives in communion with the One in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
When we reassure our children that “It’s going to be okay,” are we fostering illusion in them? Are we getting them through the perils of childhood, so that they may become, in due course, disillusioned by the evils of the world? We hear a word today that reminds us that where we touch the love and will of the Father, the ruler of this world has no power over us. We can “rise and go hence” into whatever life asks of us because with each step, however joyful or sad, easy or difficult, pleasant or painful, we are on our way “to the Father.”
But if you feel that you have done all that within you lies, then you may apply yourself to this exercise. And even though you still feel yourself to be so vile and so wretched, and so hampered by your own self that you scarcely know what is best to do with yourself, you must do this, just as I tell you. Take the good, gracious God, just as he is, without qualification, and bind him, as you would a poultice, to your sick self, just as you are. Or, to put it another way, take your sick self as you are, and strive to touch by desire the good, gracious God as he is. For the touching of him is endless health, as witness the woman in the Gospel: “Si tetigero vel fimbriam vestimenti eius, salva ero—If I touch but the hem of his clothing, I shall be safe.” You shall be healed of your sickness much more by this high heavenly touch of his own being, of his own dear self. Step up then strongly and taste this wonderful medicine. Lift up your sick self, as you are, to the gracious God, as he is, without any speculation or special probing into any of the qualities that belong to your own being or to God’s, whether they are clean or unclean, of grace or of nature, divine or human. You have no business now except to make sure that your dark contemplation of the substance of your being be lifted up in gladness and loving desire to be joined and made one in grace and in spirit with the precious being of God just as he is in himself, and nothing more.
Author of The Cloud of Unknowing, A Letter of Private Direction, II