Year A: Fifth Sunday of Easter

I am the way the truth and the life

John 14: 1-12

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you believe Jesus is the “the way and the truth and the life”, what are the qualities in Jesus that you most admire and try to imitate in your daily living?
  2. In your own lived faith experience, how have you come to know God the Father more deeply as a result of following Jesus? Explain
  3. Can you identify with Phillip’s doubt here in asking for more evidence of the Father from Jesus? Where do you experience the most doubt in your faith?
  4. Within your personal prayer life and experience, how do you interpret Jesus’ statement; “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”?

Biblical Context

John 14: 1-12
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Today’s Gospel brings us back to the table of the Last Supper. As John organized his Gospel, the Last Supper, from the washing of the feet to the final prayer (13:1-17:26) takes up five of the 21 chapters of the Gospel in which the only significant action was Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples. All the rest is comprised of Jesus summarizing the essence of what he had taught about himself, his relationship to the Father and the life he offered the disciples.

As our selection opens, Jesus has told the disciples that he is going away, that Judas will betray him and Peter will deny him. Jesus’ next statement, our opening line, is “Do not let your heart be troubled.” This is perhaps the only place in the Gospel where Jesus tells the disciples not to imitate him. John has told us that Jesus had been “troubled” on various occasions: at the death of Lazarus (11:33), when he announced the coming of his hour (12:27), and when he spoke of being betrayed (13:21).

Because John has been so clear about Jesus being deeply troubled, he gives us the impression that Jesus is speaking from his own experience when he calls the disciples beyond their distress. When Jesus tells them not to be fearful he contrasts being troubled to having faith: they can be troubled or have faith, but not both. Fear springs from the assumption that you will be overpowered, trust is based on the confidence that God is with you even if you cannot imagine a good outcome. In calling for their trust, Jesus assures the disciples that they will never be alone. Yes, he is going away, but that doesn’t imply that he will be absent from them. That idea provides the lead-in to his talk about his Father’s house.

In the early part of the Gospel Jesus had berated the people who desecrated his “Father’s house” by making the temple a marketplace. He then declared that when they destroyed the temple, he would raise it up in three days, a statement John clarified by saying he was speaking of the temple of his body. Thus, in typical Johannine fashion, Jesus actually identified himself as the Father’s dwelling place, the person through whom the disciples would experience peace.

It will take a while for the disciples to understand what Jesus was telling them. From their day to our own the idea of “many dwelling places” has fired imaginations with many images. But if we hear this in the light of John’s patterns of thought we realize that Jesus was not talking about architecture but presence. Because he dwelt in the Father and the Father in him, his promise was that he was the way for his disciples to do the same. Their faith, their committed union with him would bring them into the same relationship with the Father that he himself enjoyed.

Calming Troubled Hearts

John Shea

I think our hearts become troubled by death and loss because we believe in too small a God. We need an understanding of God that blows our mind.

I read that St. Anselm created the ontological argument for God to remedy the ennui of monks. Without going into detail, the ontological argument states God is that than which nothing greater can be thought. If you carry out this experiment in thinking, you will always be approaching God without ever arriving. It will only dawn on you in retrospect that it is the incomprehensibility of God that brings consolation. Despite what we may think, we are not calmed by knowing-for-sure.

Our hearts relax through a process of profound not-knowing that leads to trust.

Another way of saying this is: we dwell in essential mystery. Accidental mystery is something we do not presently know but will know someday. Essential mystery is the experience of “the more we know, the more mysterious it is.” Increased knowledge does not end essential mystery; increased knowledge increases mystery. Spiritual and theological traditions value this type of knowledgeable not-knowing because it safeguards both the transcendence of God and the human capacity to acknowledge the divine without fully comprehending it.

When our minds dwell in this rarified atmosphere of knowing and not-knowing, the smaller fears that normally terrorize us lose some of their power. It is not that they go away, but that we see through their menacing masks. Better said, they are taken up into larger truths that provide a meaning more in accord with love.

The more our minds entertain larger truths about God, the more we are personally and existentially in a relationship of trust. When I think that every event of creation has been taken up and stored everlastingly in what followers of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead call the consequent nature of God, or when I ponder the combination of divine immanence that suffuses all creation and divine transcendence that stretches beyond it, or when I contemplate the eternal now that is present in passing time, I sense that to surrender to this reality is to let the wind carry me. I also intuitively know that there is no other way to calm the heart.

Some clarification from John Shea on his use of Accidental and Essential Mystery in the reflection;

Accidental Mystery is: a scientific appreciation or hypothesis about something, that once we know it or prove it, it is no longer a mystery.”

Essential Mystery refers to, for example, God’s love. This love has been revealed in Jesus, but the revelation is also a concealment because God’s love is always transcendent and so always more than our finite minds can comprehend or even appreciate. It is essential to God that God is always more than we can fully comprehend and so trust is always a player in our faith.”

Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.