“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’”
John 13:7 (Common English Bible)
Recently my wife, daughter, and I enjoyed a late breakfast at Benny’s On the Beach in Lake Worth. After we parked, Grace and Rachael walked directly to the restaurant while I moved toward the parking kiosk to pay. As I waited behind two women, who were together, I overheard a most absurd conversation between them. After one had completed the payment transaction and received her receipt, the other woman remarked, “We need to place the receipt on our car’s dash before going to the beach.” She was answered by her friend, “The receipt says that there is no need to place on the dash.” That was followed by the other, “That has to be wrong! There is no way for the police to know that we have paid.” Undeterred, the other woman began reading the receipt once again, “There is no need…” She was interrupted, “That is simply ridiculous! We are placing the receipt on the dash!” I watched as the two women returned to their car and placed the receipt on the dash.
I confess to not understanding how the police will know. The spaces are no longer numbered. The parking kiosk simply asks for the license plate number for the payment transaction. But I trusted what I did not understand. I took my receipt, placed it in my wallet, and moved toward the restaurant to join my wife and daughter. Perhaps I will understand later. Nonetheless, I did not demand to understand before following the instructions provided. This is precisely what Jesus is asking the disciples to accept: “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” These words were probably spoken on the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Apparent from Jesus’s remark, the disciples are puzzled. They have tried to follow Jesus – and left a great deal behind to do so – and now Jesus is speaking to them about going away. They may have had questions during Jesus’ ministry. But now they are thoroughly unsettled.
Often we are unsettled. There is much in life that we don’t understand. Present in life are inequalities that are terribly unfair, injustice that appears insurmountable, and cruelty that is incomprehensible. This past week many returned to the safety of their homes from work to learn from the evening news that fifty people are dead in a New Zealand mosque shooting. It is a violence that simply doesn’t make sense. What are we to do in the face of such challenging problems? Jesus acknowledges that we don’t understand. Then, Jesus gives to us a divine promise: “But you will understand later.” Until then, Jesus asks us to trust and wait. The difficulty for many of us is that we don’t like to wait. Telling us that we will understand later seems a feeble thing to say to people who want to understand immediately and have a thoughtful grasp how this world works. Yet, that is precisely the problem – we are a tiny power trying to comprehend what God is doing.
In a previous meditation I wrote of a Broadway musical my son, Nathanael, and I enjoyed this past December, The Band’s Visit. In that meditation I shared that for the first thirty minutes of the musical I came to the conclusion that I had wasted a rather large sum of money on two expensive tickets. The narrative was slow to develop, held little interest for me, and lacked the sparkle and energy I have come to expect from big budget Broadway musicals. If I were to invite someone to see the musical with me today I would ask of them to give the musical a chance – to wait patiently through the first thirty minutes until the inevitable grasp it will have on their heart. Something happens in the story that unfolds that results in identification with the brokenness of the characters, a longing for good on their behalf, and even prayers sent upward to heaven that they each find some measure of joy. Then the musical concludes. An actress steps to stage center and speaks the final words of the production to each of us, the audience: “Once a band came to town. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” It is then your heart shouts, “That’s not true! It is important. It mattered. It mattered very much!” That is because, after a period of time when we didn’t understand, it suddenly was clear. And Jesus said to the disciples, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”