On the Gospel of John 14:1-12
5th Sunday of Easter
In some respects the message of this Sunday’s Gospel is very simple: Jesus Christ is our way home to the Father. In his Resurrection (which we are still now celebrating) and Ascension (which we are approaching), we see our hoped-for path to heaven: ‘I am now going to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too’.
This is a very comforting thought. Although we are alienated from God, consumed with selfishness and spite, God is not content to sit and watch us stew. Rather, he stoops down in Christ and picks us up, showing the way ahead to the dignity of Paradise. Given this account of God’s love for us, surely we can rest in peace like Jesus advises: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’.
And yet, things are not that simple. Look at the reactions of Thomas and Philip. ‘How can we know the way?’ says Thomas; ‘Lord, let us see the Father’, says Philip. The disciples’ lack of understanding seems to leave Jesus exasperated: ‘Have I been with you all this time… and you still do not know me?’ But these disciples are not simply clowns, cast to contrast with the wisdom of Jesus. No, they represent us. Even if we know that Jesus is the Way, we still stumble, we trip up, we even end up in the ditch sometimes! Philip and Thomas, these bumbling disciples, represent our haphazard progress on the Way home. Jesus may be the Way, but he is not an escalator – on our path to heaven we remain free to wander and err.
It is for this reason that the other two parts of Jesus’ self-designation are important: he is not only the Way, he is also the Truth and the Life. On our way to heaven, we need the light of Truth to understand our condition: are we facing the right direction, are we journeying with speed or sluggishly, are we moving at all? Without Christ as Truth, we might fail to walk the Way to the Father for lack of vision. And yet, clear self-knowledge can sometimes be discouraging. In the light of God’s Truth we can become painfully aware of our own shortcomings, and lose the desire for our heavenly home. But it is Christ as Life who gives us energy at these difficult moments. He is, in the words of JRR Tolkien, our ‘waybread’, especially in the Eucharist. When we know in the light of Truth that we have fallen, it is Christ as Life who spurs us to get up again.
Jesus aids us on our pilgrim journey: he is our illumination and our staff, he is our food and our companion, he is a cool drink for summer and warm clothes for winter. With him let us find our way home.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
– John 14:1-12