“Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered each to your own home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said this to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Today’s gospel passage begins with the disciples, in a flash of insight, declaring to Jesus that “Now we know.” Their belief in Jesus is now clear and indisputable to them. Jesus then disabuses them of their certitude. Not only do they not see the entire truth clearly, but they will actually, when put to the test, scatter, “each to your own home, and will leave me alone.”
We have a burning desire and ambition to finally “get it right.” It is one of the most difficult of human experiences that we never really get there. Obviously the disciples are drawn to Jesus and desire to be with him and follow him. And yet, when life is on the line, fear will inevitably lead them to react out of those habits and ways of being with which they have struggled throughout their lives.
Yet, Jesus also reminds them that, even as they leave him, he is not alone. For he is always with the Father, who is always with him. Jesus tells them this, he says, “so that in me you may have peace.” Although it seems as if “the world” and all the ways it has formed and deformed us has power over us, Jesus tells the disciples to “be of good cheer because he has “overcome the world.” There seems to be no peace in the ways we try to attain it, but according to Jesus we may have peace in him. In our life in Jesus there is peace. In our constant attempts to gain and possess peace, there is frustration and disappointment. It seems as if we shall only know peace when we cease to pursue it. We will only “get it” when we stop trying to.
This is a difficult teaching and reality for us. We experience great pain in disappointment with ourselves and with the world. We are constantly lamenting and regretting our choices and actions. I awoke this morning thinking back to age 17 when I was making the decision to join religious life. I had flashes of memory of both my father and mother suggesting to me to wait, to go to college, to experience more of life. They understood well my passion to become a teacher, and they tried very hard to speak with me about how I could live that out and have a family as well. At that moment, a touch of existential dread and potential regret seeped into my consciousness: “What if I got it wrong?” Of course, such thoughts presuppose that it is in our power to ‘get it right.” Yet, what is the “it” that we are to get right. If we pause to reflect, we realize the “it” is ourselves, our very life. We are imagining our lives, at such a moment, as an object of our management and control. Such moments of dread are of a life that is “thrown” into the world, separate and alone. This is the life that is always striving to make something of itself, to know peace on the world’s terms.
Jesus tells the disciples and us, however, that even as he is to endure his passion and death abandoned by his disciples, he is not alone. His life is his life in and with his Father. That life is our life. When we live that life, in him, we know a peace the world cannot give. Julian of Norwich famously receives her best known revelation from observation of a hazelnut.
In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me. (Showings, ch. 5)
Living in Jesus, we know peace because we realize that God made us, God loves us, and God keeps us. We are always placing something or someone between God and ourselves. We never cease to think that if only this or that were added to our lives, we would be at peace. Yet, it is when all flee from us, when we cease to place anyone or anything between God and ourselves, that we realize the communion with God in which we live, in which our life takes form through the trial and error of our choices. We know, then, that we are never alone because our life is not our own, and, then, we can rest in peace.
All that is limited by form, semblance, sound, color, Is called object.
Among them all, man alone
Is more than an object.
Though, like objects, he has form and semblance, He is not limited to form. He is more.
He can attain to formlessness.
When he is beyond form and semblance, Beyond “this” and “that,”
Where is the comparison
With another object?
Where is the conflict? What can stand in his way?
He will rest in his eternal place Which is no-place.
He will be hidden
In his own unfathomable secret. His nature sinks to its root
In the One.
His vitality, his power
Hide in secret Tao.
Thomas Merton, The Way of Change Tzu