Gospel: John 14:1-12
Do We Really Know Jesus?
Have you ever seen something, but were unaware of its importance until later?
Familiarity breeds dullness. Comfortable in our own surroundings, we can take people and events for granted. We concentrate on the foibles of family and friends. Because we think we know them so well, we are blinded to the talents and possibilities they possess.
Like family and friends, familiarity can dull our faith relationship with Jesus. In the John's gospel, Jesus took this problem head on. He shook the faith of his followers so they could see the bigger picture.
Jesus told his followers
1 "Don't worry! Trust God. And trust me. 2 There are many rooms where my Father lives. And, I'm going to prepare a place for you there. If this weren't true, why would I tell you so? 3 After I go and prepare your places, I'll certainly come and take you back with me. Then, you and I will always be together. 4 So, you know the way where I'm going."
5 Thomas told Jesus, "Lord, we don't know where you're going! How are we supposed to know the way?"
6 "I am the way to the Father, his truth, and his very life!" Jesus replied. "No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 You've know me a while. Now you know and have seen the Father!"
8 Then, Phillip said, "Lord! Show us the Father. That will be enough for us."
9 "I've been with you a long time," Jesus replied. "And you haven't got to know me, Phillip? The person who has really seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?' 10 Don't you believe I am in the Father and the Father is in me?"
Then Jesus told his followers: "These aren't my words. The Father is in me, doing his work. 11 Trust me! I am in the Father and the Father is in me. If you don't believe that, then put your trust in the things I do. 12 Listen! The person who trusts me will do things I do. He will do even greater things! Why? Because I'm going to the Father."
John's passages can be divided into two sections: 1) the revelation of Jesus as the way to the Father and 2) the promise to the disciples they would show others the face of the Father in the works they performed.
Jesus said to his disciples:
1 "Do not let your heart(s) be troubled. Believe in God and believe in ME. 2 In my Father's house, there are many rooms (reserved for you). But if not, (would) I tell you (this) since I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And, since I would go and I would prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you with ME, so where I am, you might also be (with me). 4 Where I go, you know the way." 5 Thomas said to him, "LORD, we do not know where YOU go. How are we to know the way?" 6 JESUS said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through ME."
14:1 "Believe in God and believe in me." The two verbs in this sentence can be translated either as a command ("believe") or as a statement of fact ("you believe") that implied familiarity. So, the sentence can say: "You believe in God and you believe in me." Or, the two senses can be combined, as in: "You believe in God. Now, believe in me!"
These passages fall within the last discourse Jesus had with disciples before his passion. After Judas left, Peter promised that he would die with Jesus if necessary. Jesus responded with a prophecy about Peter's apostasy (see John 13:36-38).
Then, Jesus launched into the relationship between anxiety and true faith [14:1]. Trust reduces worry (literally "hearts troubled.") But, what was the end game of trust? In other words, what would God and Jesus ultimately do? They would prepare the Kingdom for the followers of Jesus.
As God dwells infinitely, so does his kingdom. There are "many rooms" where one can stay in the Kingdom (a more literal translation of 14:2). The analogy of rooms in the Father's house, however, does not refer to space, but to relationship. The Father's "house" is his extended family. Like Jesus, we are God's children. And he invites all people into his family.
Before he could invite believers to enter the Kingdom, Jesus must go before them to prepare the way. [14:3] The way to the Kingdom was the cross. Throughout John's gospel, Jesus foreshadowed and prophesied his death. And his death would bring new, eternal life.
Even though his followers would walk the same road of suffering as Jesus, he would return to travel with them as a companion and bring them safely back to him. [14:4a] His return referred to his immediate assistance through his Spirit and at the Second Coming. In either case, Jesus returned to bring all the faithful into an intimate relationship with him. His risen life would be their risen life. [14:4b] To those who lived with Jesus and his community, the way of suffering to glory seemed obvious. [14:4c].
Or, did it? Not to Thomas, at least. He didn't know the way. [14:5] Here, Jesus opened with his famous line: "I am the way, the truth, and the life." [14:6a] Much ink has been spilled over this obtuse phrase, depending where the commentator placed his (or her) emphasis. In context, we should place the emphasis on the "way." Jesus was the means to Father. [14:6b] Unfortunately, the sentence has two additional objects ("truth" and "life"). What was the relationship of truth and life with Jesus as the way to the Father?
The key word in the Jesus' declaration was "truth." "Truth" connected "way" and "life" as a modifier to either. In other words, Jesus was the "true" (i.e., faithful) way to life with the Father. Or, Jesus was the way to "true" life (i.e., a life with meaning and purpose only God could give: eternal life). In this way, "truth" bridged "way" and "life."
But, Jesus implied more in his declaration: "I AM...the TRUTH..." For a moment, suspend any modern notion of truth as a relationship between the person and the facts, or a consistent relationship between ideas. Equate the word "true" with "only." Then, ask yourself: What is the only thing that is true, the only thing that matters? Any other answer than "God" would be false. In this context, the only true reality is God. Any existence away from God is false. In this sense, one finds truth only in a relationship with God.
When Jesus said "I AM...the TRUTH...," he asserted his divinity. The phrase "I AM..." echoed the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14-15. The "TRUTH" revealed the only reality that mattered in the world. Any belief that detracted from Jesus was false. Any choice away from a life as a follower was a false choice. For the Christian, Jesus was the "TRUTH" because he was God!
So, in the phrase, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus declared he was the only means to the Father and he was the very presence of God on earth. Christians professed an adage that summed up the Jesus' phrase well: "Wherever God acts, God is." In Jesus, God acts because God is.
Catechism Theme: True God and True Man (CCC 464-469)
As the apostles began to preach to a non-Jewish audience, they entered a different cultural world. Where the official myths had very little meaning. Where people thirsted for new, radically different spiritualities. And, where people argued philosophy as daily entertainment. This environment provided futile ground for evangelization. Within several generations, "Jesus of Nazareth" was a common household name in the urban areas of the Roman Empire.
People not only hungered for stories that told them WHO Jesus was. They also asked WHAT Jesus was. How did Jesus reveal the presence of God on earth? Was Jesus really a man? Something greater? Or, something different?
Some called Jesus a heavenly messenger, who just appeared to be a man. Others said Jesus was God by adoption, so he was just a creature like other men. Still others affirmed Jesus was truly God who became something new when he became a man; in this sense, Jesus was superhuman. Along the same lines, others held Jesus was truly God who took upon himself a human "shell;" Jesus had a real human body, but his inner reality (mind, heart, will, spirit) were truly God. There were so many opinions, the Church had to clarify the faith through the declaration of dogma.
The Church holds that the Son of God is a person, distinct and unique, just as we are individual persons, unique and distinct from each other. This person possesses abilities to choose, to love, to act, just as we do. However, the abilities of the Son of God are limitless because he has a complete divine nature (he cannot be partially God, for limiting the unlimited is a contradiction in terms). With a divine nature, the Son of God is truly God.
When the Son of God was born into the world, he made the deliberate choice to limit his abilities as a human person. This is not a contradiction, for the limitations placed upon the unlimited were not imposed by nature, but made by free choice. And the choice was love. The Son of God took upon himself all the limitations of human nature, so he could show the world the infinite depth of God's love. God's Son became "Jesus of Nazareth" to reveal his love, to offer that love, and invite humanity into a love relationship. For the sake of love, Jesus of Nazareth was truly man.
How can we follow Jesus the Way? How can we proclaim Jesus as the Truth? How can we experience Jesus as the Life?
7 "Now (all of) you have known ME, you will know the Father. From now (on), (all of) you know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said to HIM, "LORD, show us the Father and (that) will be enough for us." 9 JESUS said to him, " I am with (all of) you for such a (long) time and you have not known me, Philip? The (person) having seen ME has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father?' 10 Do you not believe, (Philip,) that I am in the Father and the Father is in ME? The words which I spoke to (all of) you I did not speak by myself; the Father remaining in me does his works. 11 Believe me that the Father is in ME and I am in the Father. But if not, believe because of these works. 12 Amen, amen, I say to you (all). The (person) believing in ME will also do the works that I do, and (even) greater than these he will do, because I go to the Father."
14:7-12 The word "you" shifted from singular (Thomas and Phillip) to plural (the followers), depending upon the context. The Greek endings on the word "you" indicated that shift that might be difficult to follow in English. For the sake of clarity, the plural was indicated with the phrase "all of you" and "you all."
The followers of the Jesus knew him because they lived with him, ate with him, argued with him. However, experience can breed disbelief. [14:5, 8] They knew what Jesus did in the past. They did not know what he could do in the future. At one point in time, he would reveal the impossible, the very face of the Father.
Judaism built its spirituality upon the notion of the unseen God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob so transcended time and space, was so unique and separate from earthly existence, no picture or statue could capture the essence of YHWH. In fact, Jews considered it an idolatry to even attempt such a feat. They believed they would die if they ever saw the face of an all-powerful, transcendent God.
Now the time had come. The moment was the crucifixion. They saw the face of a loving Father in the self-giving of his Son. That was the point of "...from now on,..." [14:7b] By gazing upon the crucifixion in faith, the followers of Jesus saw the face of the Father. They knew him. And, in that one scene, they knew the Father was in Jesus and Jesus was in the Father. If they didn't see that fact, then they really didn't know Jesus. [14:9-10]
The power of the Father through Jesus presented the beginning for faith. [14:11b] The same power that flowed through Jesus would flow through his followers. [14:12] One could see the results of this power in great miracles and mighty deeds. But the power of the Father resulted in something greater, the self-giving love of the follower. In the love of the disciple, the world saw the face of the Father and it could now see the intimate union of the Father and the Son. [14:11a]
Catechism Theme: Why did the Word become flesh?
Jesus lived and died for one reason: to show everyone the face of the Father. When he revealed his Father's face in the crucifixion, Jesus invited everyone to a reconciliation with God, to a love relationship with the Father, and to a sharing in God's very life. In this way, Jesus shows us how to be holy, how to reveal the face of the Father to others.
How can our simple acts of love invite others to see the face of the Father?
Familiarity can breed dullness. Experience can breed disbelief. Or both can challenge us to look at others with fresh eyes to see how much potential they have. Both can challenge us to seek a personal change of heart, so that harden walls of our indifference may give way to an ever-flowing love. Both can challenge us to show the face of the Father in the small sacrifices we make each day.
Let us then do the kind of things Christ did. Die to self so others might love.
What potential do others in life possess? How can you help them to develop those talents? How can you show others Christ in that effort?