“I have told you this so that you may not fall away. They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me. I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.” (John 16:1-4)
One might get the impression from the preceding verse that Jesus was “predicting” what was going to happen to the apostles and disciples after his Ascension. However, once again, we must remember that this Gospel was written at the end of the first century. Consequently, all of the things that Jesus “predicts” have already happened by the time that John sets about the task of writing his Gospel. While I cannot say for certain that Jesus didn’t predict these occurrences, it is generally agreed among Scripture scholars that John is simply reporting what has happened rather than what will happen.
The clue to how we should understand this passage then comes at the very beginning where Jesus states that he is speaking so that the Christian community will not fall away. This too has already begun to happen. Not everyone who accepted Jesus as the Messiah persevered in their faith. As his return seem to be delayed more and more, as they were expelled from the synagogues, and as the persecutions began, some simply returned to their former way of life.
We should not feel that this diminishes the Gospel or the life and death of Jesus in anyway. After all, the same thing continues in our own time. We have no expectation of the imminent return of Jesus. We have not been expelled from our families or our communities because of our faith in Jesus. In most of the Western World, we do not suffer persecution for our faith although there are many in the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world who do suffer death and persecution for their faith. In fact, the most difficult thing we have to suffer because of our faith is the fact that some simply ignore us or consider us to be demented.
Yet there are many in the Western World who have fallen away from faith. The secularization of the Western World has become so prevalent that the majority of those who say they believe in Jesus Christ do not practice their faith.
In speaking with parents, one cannot help but sympathize with them as they bemoan the fact that despite their best efforts, their children fall away from the faith. The sirens and voices of our world are louder than ever, calling us to put our own needs first, to “go for the gusto,” to find security in 401K’s and retirement plans, to “be all that we can be.” The slogans and commercials that bombard us each day stand in stark contrast to the sacrifice of Jesus who gave His very life for us. Perhaps our response to today’s Gospel passage would best be a prayer of gratitude for the gift of our faith.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator