(for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014)
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, 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, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? 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 say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John 14:1-14, NRSV).
Our passage immediately follows Jesus famous revelation ‘Little children, I am with you only a little longer’ and the subsequent prediction of Peter’s denial. Jesus words are to be understood in the context of his coming passion.
And they are intended to comfort troubled hearts.
The call, however, to ‘believe’ in the promise of Jesus’ preparation of ‘a place for you’, and the assurance that a time is coming when they will be re-joined around Jesus, seems more bewildering than anything else.
And then there is Jesus’ assumption that they understand the ‘way’ to this reunion. Thomas, I suspect, articulates the disciple’s corporate bafflement by asking the obvious: ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ It sums up their grief and indicates that Jesus’ attempt to comfort has missed the mark.
So Jesus’ answer seeks to make explicit what has so far been implicit: the destination he refers to is at the side of the ‘Father’. For the disciples it invites, at least initially, images of heaven, the very dwelling place of God.
But highlighted here is not only Jesus’ return to the Father, but the idea that there is a known path, a familiar ‘way’ for these faithful students to follow. Thomas’ doubts, however, the clarity of the direction Jesus’ indicates. He desires a more detailed map.
Unexpectedly he is given: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’. It points, tantilisingly, in the direction of a person.
Philip’s request for assurance through divine revelation emphasises, however, the chasm between their two teared cosmic vision of a separate heaven and earth, and Jesus’ message of the closeness of God. Jesus’ questioning points to the intimate and revelatory relationship between Jesus and God that has been lived out in front of these blessed twelve (12) for the past three (3) years. His questions: ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?’; ‘How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’, and; ‘Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’
These questions come together to express Jesus’ bafflement that Philip does not realise that he has already seen ‘the Father’. Have all these words and all these works fallen on untiled soil?
Probably not. But it is still a challenge for them to get themselves, for us to get ourselves, around the concept that this intimate and power-filled relationship between Jesus and the Father is exemplary. It is something we are called to follow, not simply admire. As Jesus predicted: ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…’
Without Jesus present the outworking of the relationship between Jesus and the Father will be taken up by these unruly, perhaps unpromising, disciples.
Jesus expects them to live, serve, and pray in the same way as their master.