We get things wrong a lot, but how we make them right is what has fascinated me in my life and my observations of life. John 16 has always fascinated me in just this regard, most especially because how touching a scene it can be. Jesus is telling his disciples about all the bad times to come and trying to reassure them about the good to come. As he does so, they blurt out near the chapter’s end: “now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you.” But they’re impatient and overconfident in their understanding; just as we typically are.
John is one of my favorite books, both spiritual and literary. Every time I re-encounter the Disciples in John, I’m reminded of how ill-equipped I would have been to follow Jesus in even such close, plain proximity. So often, things are said directly to them that we now know the meaning of but even his chosen followers did not comprehend in the moment.
This was captured quite honestly, though in a somewhat adolescent way, in another of my favorite, frequently misunderstood books, Catcher in the Rye. J. D. Salinger’s impatient, overconfident, and damaged protagonist sees in the Disciples’ interactions with Jesus something that I always hear in the background of this scene: “Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while he was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down” (130).
Like any of us who have lived awhile, Holden Caufield is someone who knows a bit about letting people down and I think that helps him see one of the things that John stresses in the interactions with the Disciples. We have the knowledge of hindsight. But when we are, as Jesus says to his followers “in anguish,” it’s hard to look ahead and know that there will be days when we can look back and know that it was all moving towards something. I think often of the Disciples in John and of Holden in those times and try, for what it’s worth, not to be a hole in the head to someone, but more importantly not to let Him, or myself, down.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook