posted on Apr, 8 2018 @ 02:08 PM
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” – John ch21 v22
Many people, for some reason, seem to have difficulty in grasping the full intention
of the word “If”, how it implies a condition which may or may not be fulfilled.
When I was in primary school, the older class- “the Big’Uns”- would have country dancing on Friday afternoons, circling the cleared end of the
room while the records on the school gramophone were delivering “The dashing white sergeant” and similar tunes.
At the end of the afternoon, once the desks had been restored to their normal places, my father would spend the last few minutes of the day chatting
to the class.
Sometimes he would get philosophical. He might quote that old chestnut-
“Doctor, doctor, shall I die?”
“Yes, my dear, and so shall I.”
Or he might baffle us with the paradox of the weathercock.
“When the weathercock on top of the church tower hears the church bells ring, it flies down to the village pond to take a drink of water.”
Inevitably, the objections would rain down on him. The weathercock could not fly. Weathercocks don’t need to drink. Nobody had ever seen this
happen. Nevertheless, he would stand his ground and stick to his claim.
In reality, of course, the village pond was a small swamp of green mould, on a road corner at the far end of the village. No weathercock in its right
mind would have taken a drink there.
“But sir, the weathercock can’t hear the bells ring”.
I think this was the point.
“When it hears…” was a conditional clause, equivalent to “if it hears”. By the nature of things, the condition could never be fulfilled. It
was undeniably true, at least, that the weathercock flew down as often as it heard the bells ring.
He was trying to get us to think about the meaning of language.
The verse quoted at the top of the page could be misunderstood in the same way.
It comes from the final conversation recorded in John’s gospel.
The disciples had been fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, without success.
As the new dawn was breaking, a stranger calling out from the beach told them to cast their net again, on the right side of the boat. When they
obeyed, the fish began filling the net.
The beloved disciple quickly recognised that the Lord had been speaking, and said so to Peter. With his usual impetuosity, Peter jumped into the sea
and swam to the shore, while the other disciples brought in the boat.
Jesus then invited them to share in a meal of bread and fish.
As John reports, this was the third time that Jesus had been revealed to them after the Resurrection.
There is something mysterious about the recognition of the resurrected Jesus.
We are told that the other disciples also knew that it was the Lord, and did not dare to ask him who he was.
That expression “did not dare to ask” shows that they were not recognising him by his face; if they had known the face they would not have needed
to ask, and so the question of “daring” would not have arisen.
This repeats the experience of the other disciples on the road to Emmaus, who recognised him by what he did (the breaking of the bread), rather than
by his face or his voice as he walked beside them (Luke ch24).
Even before the Resurrection, for that matter, Jesus had been able to “hide himself” from recognition, in order to get away from crowds. That was
how he escaped being thrown off a cliff in Capernaum (Luke ch4 v30), how he escaped being stoned in the Temple (John ch8 v59), and presumably how he
escaped being elected as king (John ch6 v15).
The moral appears to be that we can only know the Lord when he has been “revealed”.
The meal was followed by the dialogue between Jesus and Peter.
There was that probing question “Do you love me?”, and the repeated injunction to “feed my sheep”.
Then Jesus gave his oblique warning about Peter’s future martyrdom;
“When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”
The beloved disciple was in the vicinity, and curiosity prompted Peter to ask “What about this man?” Would he be suffering in the same way?
We’ve already seen the response he got.
“The saying spread abroad among the brethren”.
The brethren understood that something had been said about “remaining until I come”, and misunderstood it as a definite promise “that this
disciple was not to die”.
It seems that John himself had a long life-span, which would have fuelled the speculation as he got older.
So this fuller report has been included in the gospel in order to set the record straight.
“Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die”.
There is a difference, which they were failing to grasp, between “If X happens” and “X will happen”.
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties”, declared Winston Churchill, “and so bear ourselves that IF the British Empire and its
Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say ‘This was their finest hour.’”
Obviously Churchill was not promising that the British Empire would last for a thousand years, nor did that happen. (Once Hitler had been
defeated, God did not need it anymore.) He was putting greater force into his conclusion by presupposing an extreme case.
Jesus was doing the same thing; “Even in the extreme possibility that this man would not die before my return, his fate would still be none of your
Church tradition tells us, nevertheless, that even after John’s death his continued breathing was thought to be disturbing the dust around his tomb,
in fulfilment of the supposed promise.
There are times when a deep-seated misunderstanding can be impervious to explanations.