Sunday of Week 5 of Easter (A)

Commentary on Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

THE CLOSE IDENTIFICATION of Jesus with God the Father is the over-riding theme of today’s Gospel passage. There is a secondary but related emphasis on our identification with Jesus and his mission.

The context of the Gospel is Jesus’ long discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper. They are aware that Jesus is about to leave them. There is a heavy air of gloom and anxiety as the enemies of Jesus close in around him.

A call to trust

Do not let your hearts be troubled,” are the encouraging words he speaks to them. “Trust in God still, and trust in me” is a call to total faith in the Father and in Jesus. It is a single act of trust for to have faith in the one is to have equal faith in the other. And, towards the end of the passage, Jesus appeals to the evidence of all they have seen him say and do. “You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.”

The disciples cannot be too happy to hear that Jesus is about to leave them. It is no wonder that their hearts are “troubled”. This, in spite of the promise that Jesus is going away to “prepare a place” for them, that he will return to take them with him, “so that where I am you may be too“.

The Way

They should have no trouble understanding and accepting this. Jesus has now been with them for three years, has taught them continuously all during this time, they have seen him teaching and working among the people, so “You know the way to the place where I am going,” they are told.

Thomas, the man who likes to confront and the one with the very literal mind, protests: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” He is clearly thinking in geographical terms. In fact, all Jesus’ words about going and coming are spoken on quite a different level of meaning altogether. However, we can be grateful to Thomas for drawing out of Jesus one of the great sayings of John’s Gospel: “I AM the Way — I AM Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” It is obvious from all that has already been said that the Way of Jesus, all the coming and going, the “places” which are being prepared are not to be understood in any literal or spatial sense. They are to be understood totally in terms of mutual relationships, the mutual relationships between Jesus, the Father and his followers. The “Way” of Jesus, through his coming suffering and death, will end in the new and abundant life he wants for all his followers.

Where does the Way go?

To follow the Way of Jesus is not to go anywhere. It is to become a special kind of person, a person whose whole being reflects the Truth and Life that Jesus reveals to us. It is to be a person who is totally identified with the vision and the values of Jesus. To be such a person is to be a person of Truth and Life.

Truth is here understood not in a purely intellectual sense. Truth here is that complete integrity and harmony which Jesus himself revealed not only in what he said but in the total manifestation of his life and person. Truth for Jesus was not just something he knew or accepted or believed in; truth for Jesus was what he was in his whole person: thoughts, feelings, actions, relationships. It was that total conformity between his inward self and his outward behaviour. For us to live Truth in that way is also to be fully alive, to be a “fully-functioning person”, responding totally to that abundance of life which Jesus came to give us.

Truth and Life

And God the Father is, of course, also Truth and Life. But we go to God the Father through Jesus and we call Jesus the “Way” because he is the visible manifestation in human form of all that his Father is. It is this incarnation of the Father’s being in the human person of Jesus, a man “like us in all things“, which makes him the accessible model for us to grow ever more in the likeness of our God and to experience to the full his love and life in us.

And so Jesus says quite logically, “If you know me, you know my Father too. From this moment you know him and have seen him.” Now it is the naïve Philip’s turn to interject. “Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.” It was the hope of every good Jew some day to see God face to face. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip,” says Jesus (with a tinge of disappointment?), “and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Let us see the Father’?”

Seeing God in Jesus

For, as Jesus continues, he is in the Father and the Father is in him. However, this statement must be understood with some qualifications. Jesus is the Son of God and is one with the Father in all things but to say that when we see Jesus we see God is both true and not altogether true. For Jesus, as we know him, is limited by his humanness. When he speaks, certainly it is God who speaks. When he heals, certainly God heals. When Jesus died on the Cross, God also died? Surely not. God cannot die. The death of Jesus in his humanity was a sublime witness of the love and compassion of the Ever Living God.

Pale reflection

Jesus, in his humanity, is but the palest reflection of the infinite Truth, Goodness and Beauty of God. When we see Jesus, we see God but… there is much that we do not see. And so we speak of Jesus as the Way. We go through him to find the total reality of God. A reality that mystics have been given glimpses of but which most of us will have to wait for until after we have left this earth. It is important that we understand this for I find that many people tend to speak rather loosely of the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. If we make Jesus, not the Way, but the End, we can find ourselves with a very reduced God. Philip thought he knew Jesus very well, spending every day with him. Yet he had not come to recognise God in the words and works of Jesus and so he did not really know Jesus.

God’s many dwelling places

Today, perhaps, our problem is not so much recognising God in Jesus. In fact, as mentioned, we can go too far in doing so. Our problem is not being able to recognise God in the world and people around us. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says that there are many “rooms”, many dwelling places in his Father’s house.

We can understand this, of course, as “heaven” but God’s dwelling is also the Church, every Christian community is a dwelling place of God. And indeed each and every disciple, who believes in Christ, is a part of God’s Temple. There is now no longer for us a material Temple. Furthermore, as Paul told the Romans, “ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and godhead, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made“. This is to say, that not only in Christian communities, but indeed in people everywhere and in the whole of our created environment, God’s presence is shouting out to us. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Every little flower, every singing bird can say to us, “Who sees me sees the Father”.

The same works as Jesus – and even more

Lastly, Jesus has a word for us. “Whoever believes in me [and in my identity with the Father] will perform the same works as I do myself. He will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.” The Church and every member of every Christian community is called on to continue the mission of Jesus.

But how can we do greater works than Jesus? And how can we do them because Jesus is going to his Father? The Church and every Christian community is called on to continue the mission of Jesus. That is evident from the Acts of the Apostles onwards. But doing more than he did? Yes, because by leaving us for the Father he passed his mandate on to us.

Continuing Jesus’ work

We can do more than Jesus not in terms of more spectacular signs but because, Jesus in his humanity here on earth, was limited to a very small section of space and time. In his lifetime, he reached only a relatively small number of people. In fact, when he died all he could show for all his preaching and miracles was a handful of women at the foot of the cross. Peter and the rest were nowhere to be seen. Strangely, it was only by his leaving us that the energy and life he brought was released. By his going he set in motion a process by which his message, his Way of Truth and Life, could reach every corner of the world.

There are now very few places where Jesus’ message has not been heard. Moreover the Pope or some other religious leader, hooked up to satellites, can simultaneously reach literally billions of people. Jesus on earth could not do that.

Show the Way

But whether we are pope, bishop, priest, office worker, truck driver or housewife – our duty is the same: to lead the people we come in contact along the Way of Jesus – the Way of Truth and Life. By working together, we can do more than Jesus did, or rather he does it through us. The Gospel still needs to be preached with greater enthusiasm, with greater relevance, with greater integrity. As in Jesus’ day, the masses are calling out to be fed and we, the friends and companions of Jesus, have been called to continue to bring the Bread of Life to the world.

Jesus said “Without me you can do nothing“. It is important for us to realise that opposite is also largely true: without us Jesus can do little.

Commentary on John 14:15-21

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