“The Listening” | Bronze Sculpture

The Right Word at the Right Time

From John 16:12-15

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

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Lina Thompson
Seattle, WA  |  U.S.

It was hard to “hear” that our father was dying. Our family doctor could barely get the words out. He began with, “I’m sorry…” and then tried to explain that my dad had stage 4 lung cancer. It was hard to decipher what words he was actually saying. We weren’t ready to hear them anyway. Not really.

While we cared for my dad the next 3 months, everything was about the right timing for the right words. Little by little, we’d have the right conversations with my dad about the right things at the right time. His special words to me? “Lina, take care of your car because I am not going to be here to do that for you.” We had the gift of having time for the right conversations. Perfectly timed words.

You Cannot Bear them Right Now

Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now.” That’s odd to me.

Up to this point, Jesus has already unloaded many things on to the disciples – a lot of important things. In fact, we know from 15:15, that Jesus had made everything known to them that the Father had made known to Him. That is an abundance of knowledge don’t you think? Jesus is incredibly verbose in these chapters – saying goodbye to his disciples, trying to prepare them well for his departure, giving them important images and parting instructions. He warns them that the journey of being a disciple is going to be fraught with those who will not understand and those who will be threatened by their very presence and message. He will teach them the importance of laying down one’s life for another.

And Jesus is making extra, extra sure the disciples get every bit of teaching he can give about the nature of the relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pastor Jesus

While often these passages help to form a theology for the doctrine of the trinity, there is something even more beautiful happening here. We actually get to see Jesus in the role of pastor – caring for a hurting, confused and grieving community of people. Jesus walks with them, guiding, encouraging, coming alongside and offering hope too. The tone of this passage oozes with pastoral care.

Jesus has said a lot of things, and there’s much more to be said and revealedーwhen they can bear it. Whatever words Pastor Jesus is holding back, are words that would be saidーwhen the time is right.

Might this also be true for us now? What if the Holy Spirit is shaping in us the ability to exercise restraint – holding some words back, for the sake of not burdening others beyond what they can bear?

As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a guard of the Holy Spirit.

Henri Nouwen