The night before he died, Jesus gives a strange, mystical speech to his disciples. This was his last will and testament. In the course of this seemingly rambling discourse, Jesus is luring them, for the last time, into his vision of things, which is to say, into a world in which the fear of death has been overcome.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spoke of a divine love that loves us unconditionally, that reaches out to us even when we wander far away, and that loves us even through the terror and darkness of death. Just as he moved into the shame and marginalization of sin in order to bring the light to sinners, now he will move into the darkness of death in order to show us the way through.
Jesus is about to leave this world, and he prays that his disciples might know that they are not of this world. What does this world look like concretely? Well, look around.
The fear of death is like a cloud, like a terrible shadow that falls over human life and experience. All of our proximate fears are reflections of, and participations in, this primordial fear. It cramps us, turns us in on ourselves, and it makes us defensive, hateful, violent, and vengeful.
Further, structures of oppression in our world are predicated upon the fear of death. Because a tyrant can threaten his people with death, he can dominate them and perpetrate all sorts of injustice.
Whenever the strong (in any sense) overwhelm the weak, we are looking at the ways of death.
Jesus came to inaugurate what he called the Kingdom of God, God’s way of being, God’s order. This is an order based upon the infinite and death-defying love of God. What would the world look like under the influence of this love? It would be radically changed, revolutionized, replaced: “A new heavens and a new earth.”
What would life be like if we were no longer afraid? We would live as the saints do—not immune to suffering, but, if I can put it this way, unaffected by it. We would know that we are loved by a power that transcends death, and this would fill us with an exuberance beyond measure.
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.