The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’
Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Take courage; I have conquered the world.’
The Jewish world in the first century was not a happy place. It was a place of occupation and oppression. It was a place where the quest to survive and thrive led so many down the path of spiritual compromise and duplicity. This sense of struggle and conflict is reflected in the language used by Paul throughout his epistles. As well as describing his theological principles for the newly-emerging Christian communities, he repeatedly referred to the Christian mission using military terms. But, despite Paul’s references to armour and battles, the Gospel narrative revolves around the themes of love, peace and unity. This contrast makes Jesus’ language in today’s reading all the more striking, all the more surprising.
When Jesus says: I have conquered the world, he seems to be pandering to those who saw the coming of the promised Messiah as an act of military might rather than a restoration of divine balance. But, of course, that is not Jesus’ intention, and neither is it his meaning.
The word conquer is difficult if we take its use at face value. It is defined as overcoming or vanquishing, it is also defined as gaining control by force. These definitions seem to fly in the face of the core gospel message of love and service rooted in unity and peace.
At this point we should note that conquer has another meaning. It is also defined as gaining control with an effort. As Jesus urges us to take courage, he is also reassuring us that he is overcoming (conquering) evil through his own divine effort. Through the grace and the will of God we are being offered forgiveness, redemption and salvation.As Jesus utters these words of hope he is also challenging us to join in his mission. Jesus calls us to understand the trials and tribulations that accompany the life of faithful discipleship. He also calls us to understand and believe in the wondrous eternity that awaits us if we stand up to evil, if we resist the divisive and the duplicitous, if we journey on in faith, in love, in peace and in unity.