One of my favorite passages from Scripture is John 16:33. Jesus says to His disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer. For I have overcome the world.”
This is such an important lesson for us. First, Jesus reminds us of an undeniable truth: life is hard. You’d be surprised how many people truly believe that life is supposed to be all lollipops and rainbows, without a care in the world. Well, Jesus didn’t think so, and He used a pretty powerful word, “tribulation.”
If you were too busy watching YouTube videos of frolicking kittens while eating Haagen-Dazs straight from the carton, maybe you haven’t noticed that our world is a mess today. Even within the Catholic Church there is plenty of upheaval. A large number of Catholics are quite upset these days, convinced the pope is a Marxist who wants to turn the Church into a left-wing, hippie commune. Many other Catholics also are upset, and can’t understand why the pope refuses to embrace abortion, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women. These folks fear the Church is becoming a bastion of right-wing intolerance. And then there’s another group of Catholics, kind of stuck in the middle, who just want to go to Mass in peace and take a little break from all the angry political rants that seem to permeate our society nowadays.
Outside the Church, in the secular culture, things are even more chaotic: terrorism, hatred, fraud, dishonesty, violence, crumbling infrastructure, greed, unemployment, frayed nerves, crushing debt, illness, substance abuse, loneliness, fear, despair, and death. (Other than these things, our world is pretty peachy, huh?)
So when we read Jesus’ first statement, “In this world you will have tribulation,” anyone who is paying attention will reply, “Oh man, you got that right, Lord!”
Then, after correctly diagnosing our painful situation here on earth, Jesus offers His second statement: “But be of good cheer.”
This causes many people to pause and say, “Um…hey Lord, you must be kidding, right? The world is a mess, full of heartache and suffering, and you want us to paste a silly grin on our face and act like everything is fine? Nothing personal, Lord, but maybe you’ve been standing out in the sun a little too long.”
On the surface, it is kind of odd. Jesus seemingly is saying: Life stinks, so be happy! Maybe He wants us to ignore our troubles by watching YouTube videos of frolicking kittens and eating Haagen-Dazs straight from the carton.
The first two statements by Jesus only make sense in light of His third statement. After telling us that our lives will be filled with struggles and our response should be joyful optimism, Jesus tells us how that is possible: “For I have overcome the world.”
You see, Christ has conquered sin and death. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for our sin. When He rose three days later, He conquered death once and for all. And then He promised that if we put our faith in Him, we can have eternal life in Heaven.
If we cling to Jesus—with the same intensity that a shipwreck victim clings to a floating piece of wood—we can handle all the trials and tribulations of life. We can even reach a point where we once again notice and embrace all the good aspects of life. (Yes, there are some, if you look closely enough.) We truly can be filled with good cheer. But it’s only possible when we realize that Jesus has overcome the world. And it makes the Haagen-Dazs taste even better.