And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture saith, Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Now this he said of the Spirit which they should receive, who believed in him: for as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. [John 7:37-39]
But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. [John 16:7]
I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. [John 16:12-13]
There is something counter-intuitive about this message. Jesus tells His disciples that it is to their advantage that He go. His going away from them is better for them than His staying.
How can it be better for the disciples when Jesus is gone? Isn’t being with the Son of God the greatest thing that any man could experience? Isn’t it Heaven on earth? Jesus even proclaims “…the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Matthew 3:2] and, as discussed, this refers to Himself.
How did the disciples reach this point, where they could be better off without their Master? They had witnessed so much. They were present at all the great events and teachings and parables. They witnessed the changing of water into wine, Jesus walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes. They heard the Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the Prodigal Son. They were privy to His private explanations of the parables. They were His intimates. He told them that they went from servants to friends. They were to become more.
When Jesus was with them, He was always the initiator. He did all the speaking, teaching, healing, and directing of all the action. His disciples were more like an entourage. The disciples did not become the Apostles while Jesus was with them on earth. He did everything necessary during His earthly ministry, but it was not sufficient to transform the disciples into Spirit-filled Apostles. He hinted at things to come. Faith to move mountains. Faith to walk on water. Peter walked on water, briefly, but he quickly doubted and began to sink. Jesus gave them the example of the life of a good man, even the Perfect Man, but it couldn’t transform them. It could make them better, it could change their lives, but it couldn’t transform them. No earthly teacher, master, rabbi, guru can do that. Good men died inspirational deaths before Jesus. They were not sufficient. Even the Resurrection itself was not sufficient.
When the time came for Jesus to be tried and crucified, His apostles, except John, were missing in action. They were devastated, not only by the fate of their Master, but by their own cowardly reaction to it. When He was resurrected, at first they couldn’t even recognize Him, on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was with them 40 days following His resurrection. During this time, He tells them, “Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” [Matthew 28:20], but He was not referring to the resurrected body they were seeing.
When she [Mary Magdalene, v. 1] had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, thinking it was the gardener, saith to him: Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master). Jesus saith to her: Do not touch me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them: I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. [John 20:14-17]
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you. Then he saith to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and bring hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered, and said to him: My Lord, and my God. Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed. [John 20:26-29]
We’ll note in passing, because it is too obvious to ignore, that Jesus is willing to be touched by Thomas but not by Magdalene. I’ve seen it suggested that Jesus could not be touched by a woman because His earthly body was still under obligations of ritual purity. Orchard (op. cit.) suggests that His words meant, “Do not cling to me” because He needed her to bring His message to the others, but also says, “there are many interpretations of these difficult words” (p. 1016)
The important point for our purposes is that Jesus tells Magdalene that His body is for some reason not yet ready. He tells Thomas that although he sees and believes, that those who don’t see and believe are perhaps more blessed. His Resurrection, miraculous though it was, was not the endpoint.
During this time, He breathed on them and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” [John 20:22], but there was no outward manifestation like at Pentecost. It is not recorded what the bulk of His teachings were during the 40 days, but He prepared them for the 50th day, the Pentecost, when the Spirt of Truth would transform them. The Spirit, Who was with Jesus during His earthly ministry, could only come to the Apostles after Christ’s ascension. When Jesus said earlier “…it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you”, He was referring to His Ascension, not His death.
Where, during His ministry, does Jesus talk about ascending? Only in John 6. Only after His followers grumble that eating His flesh is “a hard saying”. Jesus had to ascend to the Father in order to descend to the altar. Only His Risen Body and Blood can be our True Food and True Drink. Why?
For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever. These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.
Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. [John 6:56-64]
After the Ascension, the Apostles were to be the priests of Christ’s church, the one He said He would establish on the Rock which was Peter. Only when the Son of man ascended up where He was before could they consecrate the bread and wine. This is the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who overshadows the priest as He overshadowed the Blessed Virgin at the Holy Conception.
If you stop and think about it, this is one more reason to have faith that this is not a man-made narrative. There is a consistency that goes beyond mere story-telling, a consistency that pushes the envelope of our understanding. If it were just a matter of furthering the narrative that Jesus was someone to follow, even the Son of God, then it could have had the disciples transformed after the Resurrection. It could relate that the Holy Spirit descended like tongues of fire when Jesus breathed on the disciples in the upper room. Somehow it doesn’t stop there. The narrative never stops taking yet another twist and turn that you didn’t expect. No one who first hears the whole story expects the Passion, much less the Crucifixion, certainly not the Resurrection, or next the Ascension, and finally not Pentecost, with Jesus saying at every turn that this is not yet the end of it, that there is something yet to come. Even at Pentecost we are given to understand that it is not over, because that is when the disciples become the Apostles. After that is when Peter, who had been tripping over himself throughout Jesus’ ministry, emerges as an eloquent leader. He is transformed in character and in spirit. He is our example of transformation in Christ. Transformation is the central message of the Gospel, because it conveys a personal message for each new hearer. Just like Jesus is fully Present in the Eucharist, but when the priest breaks up the hosts, they are each one of them, again, Jesus fully Present. His personal Self is given for each of us who ascend to the altar. And to what end is our transformation? The end is Christ, Who has no end.
The Mystery of Transforming Love, by Adrian van Kaam C. S. Sp. Copyright 1982 Dimension Books Inc., Denville NJ