translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
Jesus said, “One moment, and you will not see me; a moment more and you will see me.”
So some of his disciples said to each other, “What’s this he’s saying to us? ‘One moment and you will not see me, a moment more and you will see me, ‘ and ‘because I’m going to the father’? So they were saying, “What is this moment that he talks about? We don’t know what he’s talking about!”
Jesus knew that they wanted to question him, so he said to them, “Is this what you’re trying to interpret with each other, that I said, ‘One moment and you will not see me, a moment more and you will’? Amen, amen I tell you, you will weep and howl with grief but the world will shout for joy. You will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has given birth to her child she remembers the pain no more, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
So you also have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will shout for joy, and nobody will take your joy away from you.
The threefold repetition of the phrase “One moment etc.” is surely deliberate. The author wants it to stay in the minds of readers, as a way of talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection. I have commented before on how the events of Jesus’ life and death are in this Gospel translated into the language of personal relationship. Here the agony of crucifixion and the miracle of resurrection are transmuted into the kind of farewell a friend going on holiday or popping out to the shop might use. The author wants to encourage this spirit of intimacy with Jesus amongst the believing community.
The sorrow felt by the disciples at Jesus’ death is compared to the labour pains of a woman in childbirth: they are acute, but then forgotten when the child is born. (Is this opinion an indication that the author is male?) In chapter 8 of Romans, Paul says the whole of creation groans as in the pains of childbirth, as it gives birth to the children of God. In this gospel, the image is less specific, focused as it is on the contrast between sorrow and joy. But it does suggest that the pain/sorrow of Jesus’ death is necessary for a new birth, perhaps in this case, the resurrection of Jesus considered as the birth of a new humanity. The joy of the disciples is not merely for the renewal of a living relationship with Jesus, but also for the promise of their own entry into the life of the new age. Of course they still live in the world where death comes to all people, but perhaps they may imagine their own dying as qualified by Jesus’ phrase, “One moment and you will not see me; a moment more and you will see me.”