In our journey through the long Last Supper discourse of John’s Gospel that we have been in during the liturgies of these waning Easter days, we hear today the Lord tell his disciples that he has much more to tell them but that they cannot bear it now. Though the Lord will indeed go on to say quite a bit more to them, we should pause and reflect on these words.
We remember St. Paul saying a similar thing to the Corinthians, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready.” And Jesus had said previously, “Do not cast your pearl’s before swine.” There is a great tradition of spiritual teachers who take on young apprentices that goes back many centuries in both western as well as eastern monasticism. The young apprentice cannot possibly understand the ineffable mysteries that the master has come to experience after years of dedicated prayer and asceticism. So the master will lead by suggestion and puzzles that pull the youth forward in exploration.
We must always be aware of how much we do not know. One of the greatest lessons spiritual masters sought to teach their students is this great humility to recognize our utter ignorance of great matters. It is not far off the mark to say that we know nothing and that everything we think we know is likely wrong. There is a famous medieval book about this spiritual knowledge we label mysticism called “The Cloud of Unknowing.” Its author is unknown. But the author challenges the reader to have the courage to abandon what he thinks he knows so that he can more perfectly encounter the living God, whom no one can know (No one has ever seen God, says John 1:18). To encounter God in this cloud of unknowing. It is similar to the famous “via negativa” also known as apophatic theology. That way always speaks of God as “not that” and “not that” claiming that whenever we speak about God with a positive affirmation, than we have necessarily lost God.
There is a great wisdom in all this. Too often we feel we know what God wants, or how God works or even who God is. We can become secretly arrogant and proud feeling that we are somehow aware of deep mysteries that have simply not yet been revealed or that can never really be expressed in words. If you doubt the truth of this, simply pick up any book written by one of the great philosophers such as Kant or Hegel or Heidegger. After a page or two you have to humbly accept your utter bewilderment in the face of these mysteries.
We simply do not know. We are like little children or the blind leading the blind. To accept this dark reality is to accept our complete powerlessness over anything. We must rely completely on faith and faith would not be faith if it could see. Yet so many often cry out, why has God done this? Why is this happening? We become like it was said of people from Missouri- show me, we demand! Or we demand miracles or some kind of release. We try to bargain with God or make promises we cannot keep. Ultimately though, it is all about accepting our powerlessness.
But Jesus told us all this when he told his Apostles, “You cannot bear it now.” Seeking a why and a wherefore to our present situation or indeed to any situation of human suffering, is to ask a vain question. If Jesus had asked the Father “why” in Gethsemane, we would all still be dead in our sins. But Jesus did not ask why. He merely and with deep humility simply said, “Thy will be done.” Mary too replied to the angel, “Let it be done to me as you say!” This is our only response really possible. It is the same response that staring at the night sky or the ocean expanse also elicits if we allow it. We know nothing. We can only trust in the love of God almighty and throw ourselves on God’s mercy. It was what Jesus in his complete humanity did when faced with the ineffable. Not rage but complete surrender. In this time of darkness and fear, let us pray for the courage to say with Jesus, “yes!” and then we might begin to understand the words of the 23rd Psalm, “Even though I walk through the dark valley of death, I shall not fear!”