It is nice to be remembered in someone’s will, to be left something valuable, even something of the ‘mere sentimental kind,’ some little trinket, a memento of a loved one.
Jesus, at the Last Supper, is recorded as leaving something very precious to his disciples, and through them to us. He says: “Peace I bequeath you, my peace I give you.” He then qualifies his promise, by saying that it is a special kind of peace, “one that the world cannot give” (Jn 14:27).
Now, we can say “Thank God for that!” since our present world is not very good at achieving peace in the first place. And we don’t have to think of what is happening in actual war zones like Ukraine and Sudan! Consider that in the USA there were 199 cases of mass shootings already this year, facilitated by what most reasonable people would say are absurd gun laws, allowing practically anyone to buy deadly automatic weapons.
And this is before we mention the free availability of abortions, rampant racism, atrocious police brutality, and dire poverty. We cannot boast much about peace in Ireland either with our present housing crisis and divided politics in the North of the country.
In the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire boasted that it had brought a peace to the world, the so-called Pax Romana! But it was an imposed peace, enforced cruelly by mass torture, such as crucifixions if occupied people dared to rise up against their foreign oppressors. So a promise of peace from Jesus is welcome indeed. The question is: “How can a carpenter’s son deliver on such a promise?”
He can deliver, John’s Gospel tells us, because as Son of God he has classified access to the mind of the Father and his eternal plan. In other words, he knows the future and he knows how all is well now because all will be well at the end. This knowledge of what will be begins with his own fate, which he seems to know in advance, predicting his death and resurrection.
He says to the apostles that he is telling them what will happen so that when it does, they will believe in him (Jn 14:29). And this is precisely what happens after the Resurrection and especially with the coming of the Spirit.
No wonder Jesus can say, not once but twice, in this chapter: “Do not let your hearts be troubled … Trust in God and trust in me” (Jn 14:1 and v.27).
What is in question here is the way in which fear of the future can afflict, even paralyse us! We typically fear the future because (a) it is unknown and (b) it is not within our control.
Only a person who knows the future and is in control of it can be fully free from this anxiety and such is Jesus, who is in the Father and full of the Spirit. He alone can justifiably say to each of us who believe in him: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” For the truth is that the future is in the hands of God and has been from all eternity. It is predestined.
The future is not open, for God has decided ‘before’ ever creating a thing how it will turn out, even to the point of bringing infinite good out of the infinite evil of the Cross. So Jesus can claim in this 19th Chapter of John that the Prince of this World (Satan, working through Rome and Jerusalem) “has no power over him” (v30). For death is overcome in Resurrection.
It is in the light of this certainty about the brightest of futures that Paul, in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles on Tuesday, can jump up after being stoned, going back to preaching, even “putting fresh heart into the disciples” (Acts 14:19-22). How can a person who ought to be traumatised manage such a thing? Only through the power of God working through him, giving him that hope, based on the promise of Jesus that the future is already fixed, no matter what the devil can throw at God and his people.
So, in the 8th Chapter of the Letter to the Romans, Paul insists that: “All things work for the good of those who love God” (v.28), that, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed” (v.18), and, after mentioning a whole list of possible enemies, that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (V.38-9).
None of this, of course, takes away from the suffering of the moment, which we must do our best to alleviate. Think of the concern for poor widows in Acts 6 and Paul’s recognition that there will be many hardships before we enter the Kingdom of God (Jn 14:22-3). The point is that all of these negative things take on a transformed meaning in the light of the final reward, which promises to be absolutely glorious. And, of course, the promise of Jesus to be with us all days and to send us the Spirit, the Comforter, to calm our troubled hearts.
But, surely, the best way to address that future anxiety is to follow exactly the way of Jesus who summarises his own mission in life as doing exactly what the Father told me (Jn 14:31).
To discern the will of the Father and to follow that willingly is a sure guarantee of a trouble-free heart.
Kieran Cronin OFM