This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” The second promise of continuing presence is Jesus’ promise of his own return (vv. 18-20). “Orphan” (orphanos) was a common metaphor to describe disciples left without their master but the use of the metaphor here has a special poignancy in the light of the familial and domestic imagery that runs throughout Jesus’ words to his own (e.g., 13:33; 14:2-3, 10-14; 15:9-11; 16:21-24, 27). Jesus’ promise that he will not leave the disciples orphaned recalls his use of the address “little children” in 13:33 and is an assurance that the intimacy of that familial relationship is not undercut by Jesus’ departure. His promise to return thus immediately counters any possible perception of Jesus’ death as his abandonment of his own.

The primary meaning of this promise is fulfilled in the post-resurrection appearances. As in the promise of the Paraclete (v.17), Jesus’ promise of his Easter return also makes a distinction between the world and the believing community (see also 15:18-25; 16:8-11; 17:6-25). Jesus’ resurrection life gives life to the believers (v. 19b), because it is the ultimate demonstration that Jesus is indeed “the resurrection and the life” (11:25-26). Brown [646] notes that the profound insight of the Johannine community is that “union with Jesus was not permanently dependent on bodily presence.” This is not to say there is no difference between the post-Easter appearance of Jesus and indwelling, but it does say that the appearances “were not an end in themselves; they initiate and point to a deeper type of presence” (cf.I am with you always, until the end of the age” Mt 28:20)

But the promise is also more. The promise of Jesus’ return needs to be read in concert with the preceding promise of the Paraclete (vv. 16-17). The advent of the Paraclete does not render Jesus himself superfluous, nor does it supersede him. Rather, the Paraclete’s presence will make the events of the resurrection available beyond their limited moment in time.

Image credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1319), “Jesus taking leave of his Apostles,” ca. 1310 | Panel 4 of the Maestro, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena | Public Domain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.