We begin a new worship series this weekend. It is called Overcome. The intent of this series is to address issues of mental health and deep emotions that are often met with negativity, shame, and stigma in our society. The topics include: Anxiety, Anger, Depression, Grief, and Trauma.
I have received more pre-series feedback for this series than any other in my one year at Easter. Some people have said how excited they are they we are taking on such on important and relevant topic. Others, however, have critiqued the word overcome. It sends a message, they say, that these challenges are things that can be completely cured and discarded. The critique continues to say that the term overcome actually increases the stigma associated with mental health and mental illness.
What does it mean to overcome, and why did we choose this verse?
The key text is John 16:33. It is always important to study a text in its larger context before we attach it to something else. So, here’s a quick study of the verse.
Jesus is in the middle of his conversation with the disciples that happens right before he gets arrested. Some call John 13-17 The Upper Room Discourse or Jesus’ Farewell Speech. He washed the disciple’s feet in chapter 13 and told them to treat others with this kind of love and respect. He told them that he was going away to prepare a place for them in his father’s house in chapter 14. Then he promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with them while he’s gone. He said that he is the vine and they are the branches in chapter 15. The disciples are encouraged to remain in Jesus so they can bear fruit.
Then it gets real. He tells them that he is going to be arrested and that the religious leaders and political powers will hate them, just like they hate him. The disciples will suffer just like he will suffer. All of this leads up to his words in John 16:33. Notice the difference in these translations:
“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!”” (John 16:33, NRSV)
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:33, NLT)
““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”” (John 16:33, NIV84)
Here is my analysis of the original Greek version.
It is important to note that Jesus is not referring to mental health issues in this text. He is talking about physical persecution from an oppressive world system (that’s what he means by the world). The disciples’ lives were in danger. He wants the disciples to find peace and boldness in the face of this danger.
Notice two important things:
- Jesus did not remove the danger. The disciples were, in fact, eventually arrested and executed, just like him. Jesus offered to be with the disciples while they faced the danger.
- Jesus did not overcome the oppressive world system with violence. Jesus overcame evil with love. He gave up his life. He entered into the pain with us and for us.
It is in light of how Jesus overcame the world in this verse that we want to talk about how we can face the challenges of mental health and emotional distress. We ALL struggle with oppressive forces, both externally and internally, that make life challenging. Jesus empathizes with us. Jesus doesn’t promise to take it away and give us a pain-free life. Jesus promises to be WITH us as we journey through life’s challenges and encourages us to journey with each other, so that love will overcome the stigma.
Pray for our community as we seek not to be overcome by these things, but as we try to come over to each other, remove the stigma, and seek true empathy and healing together.
Here is a helpful video from RSA Shorts and Brene Brown on Empathy. This is key to overcoming the Stigma.