We experience a feeling of urgency as a consequence of the fear of failure, or the fear of missing out (on people, opportunities, time, good things). Urgency is, therefore, a corollary of fear. Today’s Christianity, hailed by loud voices as near extinction, can easily fall into the trap of undue urgency to quickly regain what has been lost.
The fear that more and more people will believe the predictions of doom, which would amplify the snowball effect and hasten the decline of the Churches, may motivate Christianity to urgent, unwise, and irony-liable measures. Recently, a Catholic parish in Boston resorted to an expensive advertising campaign to win back its parishioners. The feeling that time is going by to Christianity’s disadvantage is spreading.
Jesus Christ was not under time pressure. This was probably a disturbing and intriguing observation for those around Him, who often felt the urgency of the moment or the need for immediate action. Jesus’s brothers were irritated that He was delaying the introduction of His plan to the religious leaders in Jerusalem. His disciples were puzzled by Jesus’s idea of speaking in hard-to-understand parables, a strategy that delayed the crowd’s adherence to their hoped-for political cause.
The Jews were exasperated by Jesus’s refusal to settle the matter by a sign or a direct declaration of His status as Messiah. At the tomb’s entrance, neither Mary nor Martha were able to understand why Jesus did not come to heal their brother Lazarus. Judas, crushed to madness by Jesus’s indecision to take the throne, decided to act. Peter could not understand why Jesus was not trying to defend Himself and drew his sword. Their frustration and that of all those who waited for Jesus to treat time, opportunities, and words in a predictable way is evident in the pages of the Gospels.
Often, for Jesus, the ideal time was still in the future. In other words, Jesus seemed to be aware of the existence of a time reserve when time seemed to be exhausted. The Teacher’s words in His testamentary discourse, John 13-17, are unusual, and enigmatic. Peter does not understand what Jesus wants to convey through the words, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36).
Philip is confused by the revelation of the deep unity between the Father and Jesus (John 14:9). Jesus Himself admits, “I have been speaking figuratively” (John 16:25). Only after the following words do His disciples begin to understand the message conveyed: “Then Jesus’ disciples said, ‘Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech’” (John 16:29).
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).
The context in which Jesus gave His testamentary discourse is also loaded with symbolism. Describing the moment when the Master washed the feet of His disciples, John uses the verb “tithemi” to describe Jesus’ undressing of His garment, before taking the basin (John 13:4), the same verb used when referring to Jesus having laid down His own life for sinners (John 10:11, 15, 17).
The verb “lambano” also expresses both Jesus’ dressing after washing the disciples’ feet and His gesture of taking His life back after offering it as a sacrifice (John 10:17-18). The two verbs draw an unmistakable parallel between the gesture of washing their feet and His atoning death, but neither Peter (who wanted to oppose Jesus’ gesture of washing his feet) nor the other disciples understood it then.
For them, Jesus’ testamentary discourse is marked by scleros logos, meaning “difficult speeches” or words that were “too much to bear”. The disciples would have liked open, clear speech, but it seems that they did not find it, not even in Jesus’ testamentary discourse.
In reality, it is precisely in this characteristic of the way Jesus approached His work that an important secret of His strategy is revealed. Jesus was not marked by the urgency that arises from fear, because He knew that there were no quick measures to establish His Kingdom or to save those for whom He gave His life. His sacrifice was not an emergency solution, but the climax of a plan developed before the world was founded. The way Jesus interacts with those He wanted saved emphasizes the idea of a lasting, even meticulous construction, because His goal—restoring the image of God in man—is a masterpiece that cannot be completed without respecting the requirements of each stage.
At the same time, Jesus’ farewell words contain the clearest, most effective, and encouraging message He could have conveyed to His disciples. The discourse includes an overview of history, a sketch of the passage of time until His return. Jesus announced His death and resurrection (John 14:19), the ascension (John 14:12), the sending of the Holy Spirit as another Comforter (John 14:26), and His return (John 14:18).
Furthermore, it is clear from His words that He did not intend to seal His message, but, on the contrary, sought to make it revealing and edifying: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:29). As One who loved them, Jesus did not limit His speech, but respected the limits of those He dealt with. Not out of resignation, but out of a concern to win them over.
Christian churches have the mandate to build under this coat of arms of divine perseverance and patience. It takes an inspired perspective to be able to give up the mirage of immediate and arithmetic efficiency, for the sake of a deep metamorphosis. Churches will know Christ’s success if they accept and use this legacy left by the Master.