This short passage from John’s Gospel brings the Last Supper discourses to a close.
Jesus has spoken of many things to his disciples during the last Supper. He spoke of the way in which his disciples would be known to the public, not as bosses but as servants. He speaks of leaving them for a while and returning to them; of not leaving them ‘orphans’, but of sending Someone who would their teacher, guide and counselor. He uses the analogy of the vine and the branches to show his disciples how closely they should be united with him. He calls them his friends, not servants, for he has revealed himself to them as friends who share with each other. He warns them of opposition and hatred from the world.
Did the disciples fully understand what Jesus was saying? It’s not clear from the text that they did. Usually their questions give them away – they are too naive, as if coming from someone who has not grasped the meaning.
It’s a characteristic of John’s Gospel that the conversation between Jesus and someone else invariably proceeds on two levels – an obvious one, and one less obvious, a material level and one more subtle and spiritual. The disciples feel that finally Jesus is speaking “plainly, without figures of speech,” that they’ve grasped everything and don’t need to ask any more.
Jesus smiles at their naivete. He knows all too well that in a little while they will all have deserted him, leaving him all alone. At that time, they will also feel lost, as if the world has triumphed. But Jesus says, this is not true. Be of stout heart! I have conquered the
To all the world around, the passion of Jesus was his defeat and humiliation. But not to Jesus. Jesus knows that the reality is quite different. His passion is actually his victory, the whole purpose for which he came into the world. His death is his triumph, the accomplishment of the mission he was given by his Father.
But when will his disciples grasp this?