“Just a Little While Longer…” – A Meditation on the Brevity and Urgency of Life.

There is a passage in John 16 that is unusual for its repetition. This past Sunday it was the assigned Gospel in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The expression “in a little while” is repeated seven times in the brief passage. Its repetition is almost to the point of being annoying, such that the reader is tempted to say, “All right, already. I get it!” Obviously, John, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want to drill this point into us.

Let’s look at the whole passage:

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:16-22).

Do you get it? A little while! This text is a perfect illustration of the old expression repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). We’re supposed to lay hold of this because it clearly was significant to the Lord.

The Greek word translated here as “a little while” is even more evocative of brevity. It is μικρὸν (mikron) which, at least in its English connotation, speaks of something very little.

Contextually, the Lord seems to be referring to the brief time between His death and His resurrection. Indeed, that time was brief. He was trying to prepare His disciples (in the hope?) that they might not lose faith and would be able to endure His passion. However, it seems that these and other words promising His resurrection “in a little while” (on the third day) had no real impact on them. All but John fled in fear, and all of them were astonished and incredulous at the resurrection when it first broke in to their reality.

In a more extended and pastoral context, the words of Jesus are also intended for us. He wants us to grasp that “in a little while” we will see Him.

This is a very important perspective for us to gain: life is short! This truth is both consoling and challenging.

It is consoling because whatever pain we are going through, we are going through it; if we are faithful, it is not our destination. Whatever the current difficulties, they will be over “in a little while.” An old African-American spiritual says, “Hold on just a little longer, everything’s gonna be all right.” Another says, “Trouble don’t last always.” As most of us who are a bit older know, life passes quickly—so very quickly. Whatever our troubles, they will be over in a little while. If we have been faithful, eternity dawns with far great glories than the trouble we have endured for just “a little while.”

We ought to expect that life here will be a little uncomfortable. We live in a paradise lost. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. We who are baptized now live in this world as strangers and aliens. We’re just passing through a world with strange customs and a strange language. We’re living out of a suitcase and have all the discomforts of travel. In a little while, though, we get to go home—if we but hold on to God’s unchanging hand.

Scripture speaks often of this aspect.

  • In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).
  • Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

We ought to be consoled by this perspective that whatever difficulties we’re currently going through will be over in a little while if we stay faithful. Meanwhile it is producing and storing up glory for you.

It is also challenging to consider the “little while” of this life. Simply put, you are going to die, and you don’t get to say when. You are not promised even the next beat of your heart. Tomorrow is not promised, so you’d better choose the Lord today. Do not delay your conversion to the Lord.

Life passes so very swiftly. I’ve been a priest for nearly 30 years now. Wow, how did that happen? I feel like I just got out of high school! Scripture says,

  • Our life is over like a sigh. Our span is seventy years, or eighty for those who are strong. And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly, and we are gone (Ps 90:9-11).
  • But as for man, he is like the grass, of the flower of the field. The wind blows, and he is gone and his place never sees him again (Ps 103:15-16).
  • Remember your Creator—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles 12: finis).

Yes, life passes quickly. For most of us, the memory of our existence will linger but a generation here on earth.

Here comes the challenge: Life is short—prepare for judgment. Scripture says,

  •  It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment (Heb 9:27).
  • For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).
  • Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).

Jesus also warns,

  • Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping! What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37)
  • I am coming SOON; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown…. Behold, I am coming SOON, bringing my recompense, to repay everyone for what he has done (Rev 3:11; 22:12).

Yes, life is short, and in a little while we must report to the judgment seat of Christ for a very honest conversation. Prepare confidently, with faith but not presumption—which is a denial of the faith. The Lord has said that we must be sober, awake, and ready. In just a little while the moment will come. You will die, and you don’t get to say when. Get ready.

There it is, perspective. The consolation is that the troubles of this life pass in “a little while.” The challenge is to be ready, for in just a little while our time here is up and the question is called.

In a little while!

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming SOON.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

A Portrait of Jesus the Preacher – A Homily for the 4th Sunday of the Year

In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus models four aspects of powerful and effective preaching.

In using the word “preaching” we ought to be careful not to limit it to what takes place in a church. All Catholic parents should learn from Jesus’ example here for they have the church of their home in which to preach; they have the pulpit of the dining room table, the living room couch, and even the family car. We all must learn from Jesus’ model of powerful preaching and teaching. Note, then, four basic qualities of Jesus as preacher and teacher:

I. PERSONAL – The text says, Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

(The picture at the upper right is one of me and fellow parishioners standing in the ruins of the synagogue mentioned in this passage. It is quite moving to stand atop the ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached both this sermon and the Bread of Life discourse. Some of the ruins are from later than Jesus’ era, but the foundations are clearly from that time. It’s amazing.)

Note that the text says that Jesus spoke “with authority.” The Greek word translated here as “authority” is ἐξουσίαν (exousia), whose root meaning is “to (speak) out of one’s being or substance.” In other words, one speaks of what one knows by experience. Jesus is not simply quoting what others have said nor is He merely quoting slogans or common sayings.

In this, Jesus is distinguished from the scribes, who were famous for quoting only one another and other reputable, safe sources. Quoting other sources is fine, but if it merely stops there, how is listening to a preacher any better than staying home and reading a book?

Too many Christians, including Catholic preachers, are content to live and preach by inference rather than experience. Too many are content to repeat what others have said rather than to speak out of what they know, have seen, and have experienced.

To preach with authority means to be able to proclaim the Word of God with personal knowledge and experience. It means to be able to say this: “What the Lord and the Church have always proclaimed, I know personally, for I have tested and experienced the Word of God in the laboratory of my own life and found it to be true. And now I speak to you not merely of what others have said but what I know and experience to be true. Out of the substance of my own being I announce this truth to you.”

This is what it means to preach personally and with authority. Jesus did not simply quote what others said; He said what He personally knew.

What of you and me? Are you able to speak with authority? Well, do you know what the Lord is doing in your life? Have you personally experienced the truth of what the Scriptures and the Church have always announced? Or are you just quoting slogans, passages, and what others have said? Of course the Scriptures and the authoritative teachings of the Church are the essential foundation of what we know, but do you personally know it to be true? How? Do you speak to your children of what you know or do you merely say, “The Church says … “? Certainly you should say what the Church says, but teaching with authority means knowing and having experienced the truth of what the Church says. It means being able to attest to it personally. This is the basis of preaching and teaching with authority.

II. PROVOCATIVE – To say that something is “provocative” is to say that it elicits a response. When Jesus preached His words did not leave His listeners unmoved. His preaching called forth a response, whether it made people mad, sad, or glad.

The text pointed out that many were glad, but there was one man who was mad. The text describes his reaction: In the synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

Every experienced, authentic preacher knows that if he preaches effectively, a response will be forthcoming from his listeners. While it is natural to want a positive response, every preacher must be willing to accept that his word may incite anger or ridicule. The Church announces good news but she is also a sign of contradiction to a sinful world. Thus every preacher faithful to the Gospel must expect some degree of negativity and even persecution, ridicule, and anger.

Jesus’ Word angers a demon-possessed man in the congregation and he confronts Jesus, blaming Him with being hateful and causing hurt, saying that Jesus wants to destroy him. (Similarly, many today react with anger and call the Church hateful, bigoted, intolerant, and hurtful—even claiming that she destroys lives.) As we shall see, Jesus does not back down.

The problem in the synagogue is not the Word that Jesus proclaims; it is the man’s inner condition. When the authentic Gospel is proclaimed, the wrath that sometimes follows does not bespeak a problem with God’s Word but with the listener’s inner condition. Note that the man is demon-possessed. That is, his heart and mind are under the influence of Satan and the sin he inspires. The greatest obstacle to our being able to appreciate and understand the Word of God is our sin; the greatest help is a docile and humble spirit, granted by the grace of God.

A powerful preacher, priest or parent, preaches in order to provoke a response, whether one of joy and consolation or of repentance and godly sorrow. While no authentic preacher intends to incite a hostile response, he must be willing to accept such a reaction. When someone is accustomed to the darkness, he finds the light harsh, and calls it such. Anyone who preaches the Gospel authentically will both comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable; he will both console and confront (where necessary); he will reassure but also awaken the need for healing. He will speak the truth in love.

Good preaching provokes a response and one who hears the Gospel preached with authority cannot come away unchanged.

III. PRODUCING – Powerful and effective preaching brings results. As Jesus preaches, a man is set free. The text says, Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

The aim or point of the Word of God is not merely to inform but to transform. It’s not enough for the Word of God to be attractive, informative, or entertaining. Its full purpose is to, in power, drive out demons and bring God’s grace. Good preaching works to drive out the demons of ignorance, sorrow, rebellion, and sin. It works to give godly sorrow, joy, hope, confidence, knowledge, courage, and conviction. Good preaching changes people’s lives.

IV. PERSEVERING – Note that Jesus did not immediately back down in the face of opposition. He persevered with the opposing man and, by His Word, drove out the demons that were afflicting him. We see the man go through three stages:

  1. He is mad, for he confronts Jesus.
  2. He is sad, for he struggles and convulses as Jesus works to free him by His Word.
  3. He is glad, for he is set free and is able to rejoice with the others.

Every preacher, every parent, and every prophet must persevere, not giving up easily; it is often the case that people must go through these stages.

In my own life there was a time when, afflicted by the demons of ignorance and youthful rebellion, I would cross my arms and listen angrily to the priest. I was mad. I would often scoff at the “silly priest” who was trying to tell me what to do. After some years of hearing the preaching of the Church, however, I gradually understood that I had to change. Change does not come easily, though, and thus came the stage of sad; it was a time of struggle, learning new virtues, and forsaking old vices. Now I can truthfully say that I am glad, for the Lord has brought me a mighty long way. His preached Word is powerful. When effectively preached, it has the power to transform. I have experienced transformation personally.

I am glad that the Church persevered, that my parents persevered, that good priests and religious persevered in preaching to me and teaching me. I am glad that my parishioners continue to persevere in witnessing to me and preaching by their lives.

Here is reenactment of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (on a different occasion).