Image: Fr. Mick Fleming on a Mountaintop
As we read today’s Gospel keep in mind the context in which it takes place. Jesus is at the last supper with his disciples; he understands that he is going to be put to death, he is aware that Judas is going to betray him and turn him over to the authorities and he also knows that Peter will deny knowing him and most of the rest of the disciples are about to run away. Amid all of this what comes out of Jesus mouth is truly incredible.
“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.”
What is this Joy that Jesus is referring to and why did he have it him despite his dire circumstances?
Usually when we think of joy we consider it a synonym to happiness, or perhaps a combination of happiness and excitement. There is a kind of joy that is like this which is circumstantial. We feel it when we are surrounded by people we love and we are the midst of pleasant surroundings and engaged in exciting activities. I experience this kind of joy when I am skiing down a mountain on a beautiful day or standing on a mountaintop with a group of friends after a challenging hike.
This kind of joy is truly a wonderful feeling, but it is not the joy that Jesus was talking about. This kind of joy is fleeting. It is there one moment and gone the next. The mountaintop joy is quickly doused by a sudden rainstorm and the blissful joy of skiing down the mountainside comes quickly to an end once you reach the bottom and must stand in the lift line for an hour to ride back to the top.
Jesus was talking about something else, something more essential. There is an inner joy that comes not from circumstances or events or things but rather is a part of who we are fundamentally, though we seldom tap into it. This joy is less about a feeling and more about an understanding of our relationship to God.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”
Our relationship with God is about love. Human love brings us joy; the joy of married love, the joy of the love between parent and child, the joy of fraternal love. These are great joys but again, they are fleeting, all these loves will one day come to an end.
God’s love is forever. It is never ending, it is unconditional and, by its nature, it is perfect.
When we understand this unconditional, perfect love at the core of our being it puts everything else into perspective. Our joy is no longer circumstantial. It doesn’t depend on where we are or who we are with, it doesn’t depend on how much or how little money we have. It doesn’t even depend on our health.
The joy which Jesus understood as the son of the Father allowed him to walk toward his death knowing that he was not alone and that, ultimately, his death would be overcome by the Father’s love. This promise has also been given to us if we believe.