And in that day ye shall ask me nothing.

Eternal life, perfect freedom and joy explained - John16:22-24

6th Tuesday of Pascha, May 22/June 4 2013

 

"And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.  (23)  And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.  (24)  Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John16:22-24)

 

How are you doing on your reading of John? We are finishing the 16th chapter today. We are headed to the end, on the leave-taking of Pascha (the day before Ascension, next week). I am not concerned if you are reading at a slower pace, but as your pastor I am very concerned of you are not reading at all or very haphazardly! We must read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Psalter, and ponder them. They are the words of eternal life.

 

The Last supper, after which Jesus instructed His Disciples (John 16) http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/last-supper-01.jpgIn the 16th chapter of John, Christ is preparing His disciples for is upcoming passion, on the very night of His arrest. Judas the betrayer of Christ did not hear these words. There is a great and deep well of theology here, a Christological treasure trove. It must be understood, and this happens over time and with repetition - of reading the Scripture texts and living the Christian life.

 

There is something else in this chapter that is too beautiful to talk about properly. It is so wondrous that we cannot explain it, because it promises things that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard"[1]. Our Lord describes our*end* state, the fruit of our labors. This is the entire and only goal of life - perfection in Christ.

 

In the next chapter, Our Lord will pray his high priestly prayer and give His definition of eternal life "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). I have quoted this verse more than any other, because it is a succinct summary of our only purpose in life, and the answer to that question that I ask so often (and re-ask myself often) - "What is the purpose of your life?"

 

In the selection above, Jesus describes our state of being in eternal life. The perfect man has no need to seek for anything, since he wants in nothing. Therefore, he has no need to pray to the Lord. Here we understand prayer in a narrow sense - to ask the Lord for things we need. Of course, perfect prayer actually leads to a state of no prayer - just the state of perfectly being in the presence of the Perfect One.

 

In this world, we are commanded to ask. The Scriptures are replete with these commands. We ask because we need. When we no longer need anything, we will have no reason to ask! therefore the Lord promises us that "in that day ye shall ask me nothing".

 

I yearn for that day. It seems impossible to my feeble mind that I can be totally perfect, without any lingering passions. There are many things in my life that I have conquered, in the sense that I do not do them, and am not even attracted to them, but I cannot say that I still am never tempted by them.

 

Jesus is describing the full restoration of the human will to the Edenic state. We are made in the image of God, and simplistically, that means that we are given the gift of free will. This is the ability to do what is good , always, and without labor (it is NOT the ability to do anything, good or bad, because doing bad destroys free will). We poor ones have learned to do good, but most of the time, it is with labor, and sometimes great and bitter labor. 

 

Never forget what you are laboring for! You are laboring to have joy that cannot be taken away from you; you are laboring to be free from labor. This is the only perfect freedom. Nothing else that man calls freedom is freedom.

 

In this world, we cannot have perfect joy, but we can labor for it, and God will give it to us, because He has promised. He will fully heal our suffering souls, and repair our will so that it is perfectly free, as His is. This is the outstanding promise of Christianity, and I never grow tired of talking about it or meditating on it. This is the reason I became an Orthodox Christian. For a time (a little over a year), I was someone who believed, in a typical sort of "Protestant Evangelical" way, but I never heard these things from my eager and honest peers, nor from any literature. I remember how excited I was when I understood that Christ promises perfection and not just forgiveness. As I have grown in the faith all these years, I have learned that the whole of our ascetical theology focuses on this reality.

 

It is notable that the Lord promises this perfect freedom and joy to His disciples (and to us), when they were experiencing great pain, sorrow and confusion. The next hours would bring about great sins within them, and their weak wills would crumble. So it is with us. We labor and work, and still our wills are weak and we fall, but as we progress in the Christian life, there are glimpses of the freedom and joy that Christ promises to us, and we are encouraged in our labors.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2013     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

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[1] "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9)