By Linda McMillan
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now John 16:12
“We are a people of hope,” I said to my friend, even though neither of us was feeling very hopeful. The situation was hard to bear, the grief was real, and there was no indication that it was going to change. It wasn’t. It hasn’t. But, we chose to be hopeful anyway.
In this morning’s readings, Jesus said that he had much more to tell the disciples, and one wonders why he didn’t just tell them. This was just before he was crucified, and he had already told them quite a lot. He had told them so much in fact that these readings are part of a longer discourse which is called “The Long Discourse.” But Jesus said that they are things which the disciples couldn’t bear to hear at that time.
This verse is often cited by those who propose something new in the church. To say that homosexuality was on par with heterosexuality, for example, was hard for some to bear. They said that there was no Biblical evidence for it, and they were right. Others, though, said that it was one of the things Jesus had not told us, but that we should listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, or the Advocate, who it was promised would tell us new things.
Advocate is a Latin word. It means to speak for, or on behalf of, or instead of. We believe that the advocacy of the holy spirit is one of the ways in which God continues to speak for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, and maybe the sexually different too. The Holy Spirit could do that.
And, yet, this new information was not at all difficult for me to bear. I have loved hearing each new pronouncement that gay people are part of the household of God too. That was good news for me, not hard to bear at all.
I was wondering about something. On this Trinity Sunday, instead of repeating the things we think others should be hearing from the Holy Spirit, what if we listened more carefully to what she might be saying to us? What if we listened for the things that are hard to bear?
I don’t want to hear about my mortality or my failures, for example. I don’t want to hear that there are some things which will never go back to the way they were before, or that there are some wounds which really won’t heal. I don’t want to hear it. It is too hard to bear. But of course, we all have something that, no matter how hard we try, or how much we hope, or how earnestly we pray… it simply won’t be made right, a wound, or a failure. Maybe it’s something stupid, but it just won’t be fixed. We are all going to die and we are all going to experience the deaths of others… sometimes ones we love very much. It’s a lot to bear. We certainly can’t hear it all at once.
But here is something else Jesus said: “I know that you’re grieving, but one day your grief will turn to joy.*” I don’t know if that is always true. I am still waiting for a few of my failures, some of my wounds, to turn to joy. Jesus forgot to say exactly when the joy would come. But, I am hopeful.
What about you? When the Advocate speaks to you, what does she say? Can you hear the hope? Listen. I think it’s there. If her message is hard to bear, that’s OK. Jesus said it would be. But listen for the hope. We are a hopeful people.
Some notes of possible interest:
Jesus has lots of discourses in the Bible, five in Matthew alone. Today’s readings are from one of his “farewell discourses,” the longest one.
“I know that you are grieving, but one day your grief will turn to joy” is my own paraphrase. See John 16:20 to read it for yourself.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai