There is a passage in John 16 that is unusual for its repetition. This past Sunday it was the assigned Gospel in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. The expression “in a little while” is repeated seven times in the brief passage. In fact, its repetition is almost to the point of being annoying, such that the reader is tempted to say, “Alright, already! I get it! In a little while!” But obviously John, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit want to drill this into us. The “little while” of this passage is seemingly a critical perspective for us to lay hold of.
Let’s look at the whole passage:
Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.” Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy (John 16:16-22).
OK, do you get it? A little while! Clearly this text is a perfect illustration of the old expression repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). “A little while” x 7. Obviously we’re supposed to lay hold of this; obviously it was significant to the Lord.
The Greek word translated here as “a little while” is even more evocative of brevity. It is μικρὸν (mikron), which at least in its English connotation, speaks of something very little.
Contextually, the Lord seems to be referring to the brief time between his death and resurrection. And indeed that time was brief. He was trying to prepare his disciples (in the hope?) that they might not lose faith and would be able to endure the passion. But it seems these and other words promising his resurrection “in a little while” (on the third day) had no real impact on them. All but John fled in fear, and all of them were astonished and incredulous at the resurrection when it first broke in to their reality.
But in a more extended and pastoral context, the words of Jesus are also intended for us. He wants us to grasp that “in a little while” we will see him.
This for us is a very important perspective to gain: life is short! And this truth is both consoling and challenging for us.
Read more at Archdiocese of Washington.