Reflection for 5th Sunday of Easter – “I am the Way” by Fr Koenraad Van Gucht, Salesian.
Lectio divina on Jn 14,1-12
The words of Jesus reflect the situation the disciples were experiencing after the Resurrection. They knew that Christ had risen, but they were still saddened by his absence. They were filled with a strong sense of being orphans and this took away the joy they had at knowing that Jesus was alive. By way of encouragement, Jesus explains his apparent absence. He is preparing a place for them in his Father’s house. His separation from them now is due to his concern for them. He wants them to know this and to take courage. From now on, faith in God means believing in Jesus who, now that he is risen , must be with his Father. The disciples’ questions express their anxiety. They don’t know precisely where their Lord is going, and they don’t know the way to follow him. Jesus does not insist on his new personal destiny, with God the Father. For his disciples, he is the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to God except through him. Meanwhile, he tells those who want to see God that to see him is to contemplate the Father. The Risen Jesus is the human face of God through which God looks at us and we contemplate God. Is it not striking and significant that Jesus prays for his disciples that they may believe?
In those days, Jesus said to his disciples, 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father’? 10 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 authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
When Jesus spoke of his betrayal by Judas (Jn 13,21-30) and of Peter’s denial (Jn 13,36-38), the disciples were filled with fear. The text is built around the theme of faith (14,18.104.22.168), but is not developed clearly. After Jesus has explained to his disciples why he is absenting himself and what he is doing while they feel left alone (14,1-4), Thomas, and then Philip, ask Jesus the way to the Father (14,5.8). Jesus responds in the language of a teacher and his disciples find it difficult to understand what he says.
The disciple who feels himself abandoned, has his faith to help him. But it is one thing to believe in God and another, quite different and much more difficult, to believe in a man who has been betrayed and denied by them and who, now restored to life, is no longer living with them. When lived in solitude, faith does not give hope. Solitude is not the ultimate destiny of the believer, and so Jesus’ absence is in order to build a new house with God. ‘House’ here stands for welcome and familiarity, the place where the believer is received by God, the state of salvation at the end of time. Since God’s house has many rooms, the disciples can be received in many different ways (14,2a). Jesus has left them so that they may find their place in God, where he is the Son. It is through the work of the Son that the disciples will have access to God. They will find peace in this solitude. We make our own the words of St Augustine: “Let the Lord go, therefore, to prepare a place for us. He goes and we do not see him. He hides so that we may believe. He prepares a place for us while we live in faith. We desire him in faith to have him whom we desire, for the desire to love comes before love itself. Then, Lord, prepare what you are preparing. Prepare us for you and prepare yourself for us.”
His leaving us is not final – he will return so that his disciples may be with him. Far from leaving his disciples abandoned, Jesus leaves them full of hope. Their solitude is only apparent. When he returns, they will know where he has gone and they will know they way.
Thomas’s question introduces (14,5; 11,16) a new development (14,5-11): whoever is journeying towards God finds in Jesus the road and the goal, the way and the entry, the means and the end (14,6). Jesus is the way, the only way, that leads to God. There is no other way. Nobody can propose another way to the Father. Jesus is the way. If we know him, our access to the Father is guaranteed. Only Jesus, and his words and works, manifest the Father fully. As the only way to the Father, he is the definitive truth (1,14.17; 5,33; 8,32.40.44-46). When he is accepted as the truth, he becomes life. (1,4; 6,22.214.171.124.68; 8,12; 10,10; 11,25).
With surprising boldness, Jesus goes so far as to say that knowing him personally is already a vision of the Father. It is knowledge of God without intermediaries or signs (14,7). Becoming a friend of Jesus and getting to know him is the condition for going to the Father. As disciples they have already known him and now, therefore, they can know and see the Father, something which is impossible to man (1,18. Is 45,15).
Philip still does not understand. He asks Jesus to show them the Father (14,8. Ex 33,18) and then they will be satisfied. For believers of all times there is a permanent temptation to feel the need for a definitive revelation of God. To see God is the ultimate aspiration of his faithful people (Ex 33,12-23; Ps 27,8.9.13; 24,6; 43,3.4.19; 105,6; Mt 5,7; 1 Jn 3,2)
Jesus does not accept that vain aspiration and he complains. The complaint of Jesus is directed towards all his disciples. The time that he shared with them should have been enough for them to realize that in seeing Jesus they saw also the Father (10,38). Jesus is the definitive revelation of God, the best definition and the most complete exegesis. Anyone who sees him, sees the Father (14,9). Anyone who believes (12,44-45), needs no further proof or demonstration. The faith which sees Jesus as the Son lets us see also the Father, not because we contemplate the Father but because we accept the Son. In the presence of the Son, we are in the presence of God.
Jesus gives the reason for his affirmation (14,11-12). He is the mediator who resides in the Father and the Father in him. This cohabitation of Jesus and the Father, their mutual indwelling, is realized in the words of Jesus (14,10). The intimacy of Jesus with God is the proof that Jesus gives to enable the disciples to pass from ignorance to faith (14,11). The legitimacy of Jesus’ revelation rests on the mutual relationship that exists between him and the Father. Whatever Jesus does is the work of the Father. If his words are not enough to convince them, then at least, let them believe because of the works that the Father does in him.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life.
Today the gospel shows us Jesus speaking to his disciples on the eve of his violent death, consoling them beforehand for his disappearance. Later, after the resurrection, when they felt alone and disconsolate, his followers remembered this scene and the words spoken by Jesus. They knew that Jesus was alive, certainly, but he was no longer with them. It was not like before when he walked among them, preaching the kingdom of God, and they enjoyed his presence and his attention. Now, although they knew he was risen, not all could see him, some failed to recognise him, and they all feared that they would have to live without him. When they got over their initial surprise and joy, they began to realize that the Risen Jesus did not belong to them as before. The enjoyment of his presence was not to last long. Jesus had regained life, but his disciples had not regained their Lord. The Risen One was returning to his Father and, more and more, they felt like orphans.
The resurrection of Jesus was, without doubt, the triumph of God over death, but it seemed like a momentary triumph, because of the physical disappearance of Jesus from among the living. The disciples had barely recovered from the trauma of the violent death of their master. They were not yet fully sure of having him alive. They had to get used to not counting on him for everything. What good was it if the Lord had regained life, but they had not regained their Lord? If the Risen Jesus did not return to them, what benefit would they have from his glorious resurrection?
Is that not also our situation? Do we not also feel abandoned by Jesus and left to our fate? We have celebrated the resurrection and we know that he is alive for us always – this is the very heart of our faith and the reason for our hope. But it is not enough to make us feel secure, to free us from the sense of being abandoned, and to restore our trust in him. We cannot see or touch God in this world of ours. We do not feel that we are the object of his attention and his preoccupation. We doubt his interest in us, and our fears increase. It seems that, like the first apostles, we live, not doubting that Jesus is really alive and with God, but unable to believe that he has not left us. Jesus says to us today what he said to them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.”
His words are convincing. They are well directed and very consoling. When Jesus regained life, he did not immediately regain us. He had to go first to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house, our home with God. He moves away from us physically. He is no longer close to hand or close to our hearts, as we sometimes desire. But he does not abandon us. He is busy convincing God to prepare a place for us in his heart, and a home close to him. His disappearance is for a good reason, even if it means that the disciples cannot see their Lord nor feel him near. He is preparing a place for us close to God and expanding God’s heart so that, where he is, we also may be. We would greatly underestimate his love for us if we interpreted his absence as disinterest or forgetfulness, if we complained that he had abandoned us. Believing in the Risen Christ means accepting that he is not fully with us. He wants us to be always with him, close to God. Could we hope for anything better? May we always believe in him, especially when we feel abandoned. May we never lose hope in him, even when everything tells us he has left us.
Like Thomas we find it to hard to believe that Jesus, even though he leaves us for a while, has promised to return to us. And as if this were not enough, he himself has become for us the way to God. He is the way we must travel. Anyone who feels far from God can come to God by travelling the way of Jesus. The way to rediscover him and to make him present is by living our lives as he lived his. The disciple who feels alone, and grieves because he is far from God, finds the way to recover God’s closeness, if he takes the life of Jesus as the way he must travel, as truth to overcome his doubts, as life for all that has died in him.
Having Jesus as the way is not a distant ideal, nor an unreachable goal. It means trying, day by day, to do as he did, to fulfil his demands and to follow in his footsteps. Doing what Jesus did may prove difficult and may even demand heroism. It is unusual and unpopular nowadays, but it achieves its goal which is intimacy with God. Jesus is the only one who guarantees, not perishable victories, but a truly happy end. He alone shows us the Father. That makes him deserving of our trust and of all our efforts.
Accepting Jesus as the way, the truth and the life is not always easy. Sometimes we don’t even desire it. We think about it but we are afraid. It means putting Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, making him the reason for our choices and the judge of our attitudes. This can be complicated and even dangerous. It means allowing another person, with his ideas and demands, with his values and needs, to become the inspiration and the driving force of our personal lives. Because we are afraid to give Jesus what rightly belongs to him, we choose to live lives that are not bad, but not too good either. We may not do much evil but we fail to do much good. We do not stand out because of our sins, but neither do we shine for our holiness. We may be good people for the whole of our lives without ever becoming good disciples of Jesus.
We are missing the decisive step which is to put Christ at the centre of our thoughts and affections, of our willing and doing. Only when he becomes our Lord will he be our way to God. We are afraid that we will lose ourselves if we take God seriously. We finish up losing the place with God that Jesus has gone to prepare for us, and we feel abandoned and alone on life’s journey. It is not the Risen Christ who has left us alone. We persist in going other more pleasurable ways and following other less demanding masters. This is why we do not feel that we are with Christ, and we do not feel that we are on the way to God.
If there is nothing in our lives to show that we belong to Christ, there will be nothing that resembles God. It is possible that, like Philip, we have been close to Christ all our lives and have not really come to know him. It would be a great equivocation and a great failure on our part. If we want to avoid that failure, we must give Christ the place that belongs to him. Let him be our way, our truth and our life. Then we will be victorious. We will no longer feel alone. We will have found God.
III. Prayer: I desire that what I have heard may be done in my life
Lord Jesus, it gives me joy to know that you have conquered death and that you are close to the Father. But it makes me afraid when I see that I am abandoned. Give me the faith that you ask of me. Then you can calm my fears and fill the emptiness in me with yourself. It gives me great confidence to know that you are busy preparing a home for me, a place of rest and intimacy with God. You do not know how much it consoles me to know where you are, to know that you do not want to be without me, that you will return for me, and that you are the way for me to reach you. You are my Lord, my friend and my brother.
Now that I know you as the way and the goal, the truth and the life, let me see the Father in you. That would be enough for me to find peace. Give me the courage to be able to see him as Father and to see myself as son. Let me see him in you. Let me see you so that I may see him and be satisfied.
How wonderful you are to me! How you nourish my poor faith! You promise me, as you once promised Philip, that I would do greater works than you do, if only I have faith and trust in you.