Fifth Sunday of Easter – A

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Pt 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

“I AM THE WAY AND THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE.
NO ONE CAN COME TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.”

  • During the 2nd World War, in Malaya, a prisoner happened to escape from the prisoners’ camp. He was assisted by a native fellow who led him through a thick forest and from there to freedom and back home. The native fellow walked ahead and the man followed him from behind. With great difficulty they were finding their way through thorns and bushes, and ups and downs, and twists and turns, and the man got very tired. He then asked the native fellow,“Are you sure this is the way?” The native fellow looked at him, and in broken English he said, “There is no way. I am the way. If you want to be free and go home, then you have to just follow me.”

    In the same way, in the Gospel Reading of today Jesus says to us – I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me – as we journey with him through our earthly life in the midst of our problems and difficulties, sufferings and pains, disappointments and discouragements, stress and strain to the House of our Heavenly Father, and we have to just follow him.

  • Once the Devil was walking along with one of his cohorts. They saw a man ahead of them pick up something shiny. “What did he find?” asked the cohort.

    “A piece of the truth,” the Devil replied.

    “Doesn’t it bother you that he found a piece of the truth?” asked the cohort.

    “No,” said the Devil, “I will see to it that he makes a religion out of it.”

    Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths – Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 35.

  • Two men had an argument. To settle the matter, they went to a Sufi judge for arbitration. The plaintiff made his case. He was very eloquent and persuasive in his reasoning. When he finished, the judge nodded in approval and said, “That’s right, that’s right.”

    On hearing this, the defendant jumped up and said, “Wait a second, judge, you haven’t even heard my side of the case yet.” So the judge told the defendant to state his case. And he, too, was very persuasive and eloquent. When he finished, the judge said, “That’s right, that’s right.”

    When the clerk of court heard this, he jumped up and said, “Judge, they both can’t be right.” The judge looked at the clerk of court and said, “That’s right, that’s right.”

    Roger von Oech, Ph.D., A Whack on the Side of the Head, Warner Books, 1983, p. 23

  • Someone has calculated how a typical lifespan of 70 years is spent. Here is the estimate:

    Sleep…………….23 years………..32.9%
    Work……………..16 years………..22.8%
    TV………………..8 years………..11.4%
    Eating…………….6 years…………8.6%
    Travel…………….6 years…………8.6%
    Leisure………….4.5 years…………6.5%
    Illness……………4 years…………5.7%
    Dressing…………..2 years…………2.8%
    Religion…………0.5 years…………0.7%

    Total…………….70 years…………100%

    Our Daily Bread, November 25, 1992.

  • Sometime ago I met a woman whose husband had died very suddenly because of cancer and she herself had been recently diagnosed with cancer too. She said that it was obvious to her that God was punishing her. When I asked why, she replied that many years ago when her husband was working for his company overseas for a few months she had had an affair with another man. She became pregnant and had had an abortion. She believed that the cancer now was God’s way of punishing her. This is certainly not true. But she is like many people who believe that God punishes them because of their sins. Yet Jesus spent a great amount of time during his public life healing people. Nowhere do we find Jesus punishing people for wrongdoing. And in the Garden of Gethsemene he begged his Father to spare him the suffering that he would undergo because of his enemies. How then can we say God punishes us?

The First Reading from Acts of the Apostles depicts a moment in the life of the early Church and responds to a practical need. There is a division of functions to allow the apostles to dedicate themselves to their priestly task, while consecrating others to attend to the necessary material works and charitable needs. We see here a necessary practical shaping of the spiritual edifice.

The Second Reading from the 1st Letter of Peter, depicts our identity as Easter people and encourages us to be aware of our responsibility as ‘living stones,’ with Christ as cornerstone, to form a ‘spiritual building.’ The rich images that we hear in this reading present our dignity as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” to sing his praises.

Gospel:

THE PROMISE OF GLORY (John 14:1-3)

“Do not let your heart be distressed. Believe in God and believe in me. There are many abiding-places in my Father’s house. If it were not so, 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 am coming again, and I will welcome you to myself, that where I am, there you too may be.”

In a very short time life for the disciples was going to fall in. Their world was going to collapse in chaos around them. At such a time there was only one thing to do–stubbornly to hold on to trust in God. As the Psalmist had had it: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalms 27:13). “But my eyes are toward thee, O Lord God; in thee I seek refuge” (Psalms 141:8). There comes a time when we have to believe where we cannot prove and to accept where we cannot understand. If, in the darkest hour, we believe that somehow there is a purpose in life and that that purpose is love, even the unbearable becomes bearable and even in the darkness there is a glimmer of light.

Jesus adds something to that. He says not only: “Believe in God.” He says also: “Believe in me.” If the Psalmist could believe in the ultimate goodness of God, how much can we. For Jesus is the proof that God is willing to give us everything he has to give. As Paul put it: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32). If we believe that in Jesus we see the picture of God, then, in face of that amazing love, it becomes, not easy, but at least possible, to accept even what we cannot understand, and in the storms of life to retain a faith that is serene.

Jesus went on to say: “There are many abiding places in my Father’s house.” By his Father’s house he meant heaven. But what did he mean when he said there were many abiding places in heaven? The word used for abiding places is the word monai and there are three suggestions.

(i) The Jews held that in heaven there were different grades of blessedness which would be given to men according to their goodness and their fidelity on earth. In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch it is said: “In the world to come there are many mansions prepared for men; good for good; evil for evil.” That picture likens heaven to a vast palace in which there are many rooms, with each assigned a room such as his life has merited.

(ii) In the Greek writer Pausanias the word monai means stages upon the way. If that is how to take it here, it means that there are many stages on the way to heaven and even in heaven there is progress and development and advance. At least some of the great early Christian thinkers had that belief. Origen was one. He said that when a man died, his soul went to some place called Paradise, which is still upon earth. There he received teaching and training and, when he was worthy and fit, his soul ascended into the air. It then passed through various monai, stages, which the Greeks called spheres and which the Christians called heavens, until finally it reached the heavenly kingdom. In so doing the soul followed Jesus who, as the writer to the Hebrews said, “passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14). Irenaeus speaks of a certain interpretation of the sentence which tells how the seed that is sown produces sometimes a hundredfold., sometimes sixtyfold and sometimes thirtyfold (Matthew 13:8). There was a different yield and therefore a different reward. Some men will be counted worthy to pass all their eternity in the very presence of God; others will rise to Paradise; and others will become citizens of “the city.” Clement of Alexandria believed that there were degrees of glory, rewards and stages in proportion to a man’s achievement in holiness in this life.

There is something very attractive here. There is a sense in which the soul shrinks from what we might call a static heaven. There is something attractive in the idea of a development which goes on even in the heavenly places. Speaking in purely human and inadequate terms, we sometimes feel that we would bedazzled with too much splendour, if we were immediately ushered into the very presence of God. We feel that even in heaven we would need to be purified and helped until we could face the greater glory.

(iii) But it may well be that the meaning is very simple and very lovely. “There are many abiding-places in my Father’s house” may simply mean that in heaven there is room for all. An earthly house becomes overcrowded; an earthly inn must sometimes turn away the weary traveller because its accommodation is exhausted. It is not so with our Father’s house, for heaven is as wide as the heart of God and there is room for all. Jesus is saying to his friends: “Don’t be afraid. Men may shut their doors upon you. But in heaven you will never be shut out.”

THE PROMISE OF GLORY (John 14:1-3 continued)

There are certain other great truths within this passage.

(i) It tells us of the honesty of Jesus. “If it were not so,” asked Jesus, “would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” No one could ever claim that he had been inveigled into Christianity by specious promises or under false pretenses. Jesus told men bluntly that the Christian must bid farewell to comfort (Luke 9:57-58). He told them of the persecution, the hatred, the penalties they would have to bear (Matthew 10:16-22). He told them of the cross which they must carry (Matthew 16:24), even although he told them also of the glory of the ending of the Christian way. He frankly and honestly told men what they might expect both of glory and of pain if they followed him. He was not a leader who tried to bribe men with promises of an easy way; he tried to challenge them into greatness.

(ii) It tells us of the function of Jesus. He said, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” One of the great thoughts of the New Testament is that Jesus goes on in front for us to follow. He opens up a way so that we may follow in his steps. One of the great words which is used to describe Jesus is the word prodromos (Hebrews 6:20). The Jerusalem Version and the Revised Standard translate it as forerunner. There are two uses of this word which light up the picture within it. In the Roman army the prodromoi were the reconnaissance troops. They went ahead of the main body of the army to blaze the trail and to ensure that it was safe for the rest of the troops to follow. The harbour of Alexandria was very difficult to approach. When the great corn ships came into it a little pilot boat was sent out to guide them along the channel into safe waters. That pilot boat was called the prodromos . It went first to make it safe for others to follow. That is what Jesus did. He blazed the way to heaven and to God that we might follow in his steps.

(iii) It tells us of the ultimate triumph of Jesus. He said: “I am coming again.” The Second Coming of Jesus is a doctrine which has to a large extent dropped out of Christian thinking and preaching. The curious thing about it is that Christians seem either entirely to disregard it or to think of nothing else. It is true that we cannot tell when it will happen or what will happen, but one thing is certain–history is going somewhere. Without a climax it would be necessarily incomplete. History must have a consummation, and that consummation will be the triumph of Jesus Christ; and he promises that in the day of his triumph he will welcome his friends.

(iv) Jesus said: “Where I am, there you will also be.” Here is a great truth put in the simplest way; for the Christian, heaven is where Jesus is. We do not need to speculate on what heaven will be like. It is enough to know that we will be for ever with him. When we love someone with our whole heart, we are really alive only when we are with that person. It is so with Christ. In this world our contact with him is shadowy, for we can see only through a glass darkly, and spasmodic, for we are poor creatures and cannot live always on the heights. But the best definition is to say that heaven is that state where we will always be with Jesus.

THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE (John 14:4-6)

“And you know the way to where I go.” Thomas said to him: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How do we know the way?” Jesus said to him: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Again and again Jesus had told his disciples where he was going, but somehow they had never understood. “Yet a little while I am with you,” he said, “and then I go to him that sent me” (John 7:33). He had told them that he was going to the Father who had sent him, and with whom he was one, but they still did not understand what was going on. Even less did they understand the way by which Jesus was going, for that way was the Cross. At this moment the disciples were bewildered men. There was one among them who could never say that he understood what he did not understand, and that was Thomas. He was far too honest and far too much in earnest to be satisfied with any vague pious expressions. Thomas had to be sure. So he expressed his doubts and his failure to understand, and the wonderful thing is that it was the question of a doubting man which provoked one of the greatest things Jesus ever said. No one need be ashamed of his doubts; for it is amazingly and blessedly true that he who seeks will in the end find.

Jesus said to Thomas: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” That is a great saying to us, but it would be still greater to a Jew who heard it for the first time. In it Jesus took three of the great basic conceptions of Jewish religion, and made the tremendous claim that in him all three found their full realization.

The Jews talked much about the way in which men must walk and the ways of God. God said to Moses: “You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). Moses said to the people: “I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you” (Deuteronomy 31:29). Isaiah had said: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). In the brave new world there would be a highway called the Way of Holiness, and in it the wayfaring man, even though a simple soul, would not go lost (Isaiah 35:8). It was the Psalmist’s prayer: “Teach me thy way, O Lord” (Psalms 27:11). The Jews knew much about the way of God in which a man must walk. And Jesus said: “I am the Way.”

What did he mean? Suppose we are in a strange town and ask for directions. Suppose the person asked says: “Take the first to the right, and the second to the left. Cross the square, go past the church, take the third on the right and the road you want is the fourth on the left.” The chances are that we will be lost before we get half-way. But suppose the person we ask says: “Come. I’ll take you there.” In that case the person to us is the way, and we cannot miss it. That is what Jesus does for us. He does not only give advice and directions. He takes us by the hand and leads us; he strengthens us and guides us personally every day. He does not tell us about the way; he is the Way.

Jesus said: “I am the Truth.” The Psalmist said: “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in thy truth” (Psalms 86:11). “For thy steadfast love is before my eyes,” he said, “and I walk in faithfulness to thee” (Psalms 26:3). “I have chosen the way of truth,” he said (Psalms 119:30). Many men have told us the truth, but no man ever embodied it. There is one all-important thing about moral truth. A man’s character does not really affect his teaching of geometry or astronomy or Latin verbs. But if a man proposes to teach moral truth, his character makes all the difference in the world. An adulterer who teaches the necessity of purity, a grasping person who teaches the value of generosity, a domineering person who teaches the beauty of humility, an irascible creature who teaches the beauty of serenity, an embittered person who teaches the beauty of love, is bound to be ineffective. Moral truth cannot be conveyed solely in words; it must be conveyed in example. And that is precisely where the greatest human teacher must fall down. No teacher has ever embodied the truth he taught–except Jesus. Many a man could say: “I have taught you the truth.” Only Jesus could say: “I am the Truth.” The tremendous thing about Jesus is not simply that the statement of moral perfection finds its peak in him; it is that the fact of moral perfection finds its realization in him.

Jesus said: “I am the Life.” The writer of the Proverbs said: “The commandment is a lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). “He who heeds instructions is on the path to life” (Proverbs 10:17). “Thou dost show me the path of life,” said the Psalmist (Psalms 16:11). In the last analysis what man is always seeking for is life. His search is not for knowledge for its own sake: but what will make life worth living. A novelist makes one of his characters who has fallen in love say: “I never knew what life was until I saw it in your eyes.” Love had brought life. That is what Jesus does. Life with Jesus is life indeed.

And there is one way of putting all this. “No one,” said Jesus, “comes to the Father except through me.” He alone is the way to God. In him alone we see what God is like; and he alone can lead men into God’s presence without fear and without shame.

THE VISION OF GOD (John 14:7-11)

“If you had known me, you would have known my Father too. From now on you are beginning to know him, and you have seen him.” Philip said to him: “Lord, show us the Father, and that is enough for us.” Jesus said to him: “Have I been with you for so long, and you did not know me, Philip? He who 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 that the Father is in me? I am not the source of the words that I speak to you. It is the Father who dwells in me who is doing his own work. Believe me that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me. If you cannot believe it because I say it, believe it because of the very works I do.”

It may well be that to the ancient world this was the most staggering thing Jesus ever said. To the Greeks God was characteristically The Invisible, the Jews would count it as an article of faith that no man had seen God at any time. To people who thought like that Jesus said: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father too.” Then Philip asked what he must have believed to be the impossible. Maybe he was thinking back to that tremendous day when God revealed his glory to Moses (Exodus 33:12-23). But even in that great day. God had said to Moses: “You shall see my back: but my face shall not be seen.” In the time of Jesus men were oppressed and fascinated by what is called the transcendence of God and by thought of the difference and the distance between God and man. They would never have dared to think that they could see God. Then Jesus says with utter simplicity: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

To see Jesus is to see what God is like. A recent writer said that Luke in his gospel “domesticated God.” He meant that Luke shows us God in Jesus taking a share in the most intimate and homely things. When we see Jesus we can say: “This is God living our life.” That being so, we can say the most precious things about God.

(i) God entered into an ordinary home and into an ordinary family. As Francis Thompson wrote so beautifully in Ex Ore Infantum:

Little Jesus, wast thou shy

Once, and just so small as I?

And what did it feel to be

Out of Heaven and just like me?

Anyone in the ancient world would have thought that if God did come into this world, he would come as a king into some royal palace with all the might and majesty which the world calls greatness. As George Macdonald wrote:

They all were looking for a king

To slay their foes and lift them high;

Thou cam’st, a little baby thing,

That made a woman cry.

As the child’s verse says:

“There was a knight of Bethlehem

Whose wealth was tears and sorrows;

His men at arms were little lambs,

His trumpeters were sparrows.”

In Jesus, God once and for all sanctified human birth, sanctified the humble home of ordinary folk and sanctified all childhood.

(ii) God was not ashamed to do a man’s work. It was as a working man that he entered into the world; Jesus was the carpenter of Nazareth. We can never sufficiently realize the wonder of the fact that God understands our day’s work. He knows the difficulty of making ends meet; he knows the difficulty of the ill-mannered customer and the client who will not pay his bills. He knew all the difficulty of living in an ordinary home and in a big family, and he knew every problem which besets us in the work of every day. According to the Old Testament work is a curse; according to the old story, the curse on man for the sin of Eden was: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). But according to the New Testament, common work is tinged with glory for it has been touched by the hand of God.

(iii) God knows what it is to be tempted. The life of Jesus shows us, not the serenity, but the struggle of God. Anyone might conceive of a God who lived in a serenity and peace which were beyond the tensions of this world; but Jesus shows us a God who goes through the struggle that we must undergo. God is not like a commander who leads from behind the lines; he too knows the firing-line of life.

(iv) In Jesus we see God loving. The moment love enters into life pain enters in. If we could be absolutely detached, if we could so arrange life that nothing and nobody mattered to us, then there would be no such thing as sorrow and pain and anxiety. But in Jesus we see God caring intensely, yearning over men, feeling poignantly for them and with them, loving them until he bore the wounds of love upon his heart.

(v) In Jesus we see God upon a Cross. There is nothing so incredible as this in all the world. No one would ever have dreamed of a God who chose the Cross to obtain our salvation.

“He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is the revelation of God and that revelation leaves the mind of man staggered and amazed.

THE VISION OF GOD (John 14:7-11 continued)

Jesus goes on to say something else. One thing no Jew would ever lose was the grip of sheer loneliness of God. The Jews were unswerving monotheists. The danger of the Christian faith is that we may set up Jesus as a kind of secondary God. But Jesus himself insists that the things he said and the things he did, did not come from his own initiative or his own power or his own knowledge but from God. His words were God’s voice speaking to men; His deeds were God’s power flowing through him to men. He was the channel by which God came to men.

Let us take two simple and imperfect analogies, from the relationship between student and teacher. Dr Lewis Muirhead said of that great Christian and expositor, A. B. Bruce, that men “came to see in the man the glory of God.” Every teacher has the responsibility of transmitting something of the glory of his subject to those who listen to him; and he who teaches about Jesus Christ can, if he is saint enough, transmit the vision and the presence of God to his students. That is what A. B. Bruce did, and in an infinitely greater way that is what Jesus did. He transmitted the glory and the love of God to men.

Here is the other analogy. A great teacher stamps his students with something of himself. W. M. Macgregor was a student of A. B. Bruce. A. J. Gossip tells in his memoir of W. M. Macgregor that, “when it was rumoured that Macgregor thought of deserting the pulpit for a chair, men, in astonishment, asked, Why? He replied, with modesty, that he had learned some things from Bruce that he would fain pass on.” Principal John Cairns wrote to his teacher Sir William Hamilton: “I do not know what life, or lives, may lie before me. But I know this, that, to the end of the last of them, I shall bear your mark upon me.” Sometimes if a divinity student has been trained by a great preacher whom he loves, we will see in the student something of the teacher and hear something of his voice. Jesus did something like that only immeasurably more so. He brought God’s accent, God’s message, God’s mind, God’s heart to men.

We must every now and then remember, that all is of God. it was not a self-chosen expedition to the world which Jesus made. He did not do it to soften a hard heart in God. He came because God sent him, because God so loved the world. At the back of Jesus, and in him, there is God.

Jesus went on to make a claim and to offer a test, based on two things; his words and his works.

(i) He claimed to be tested by what he said. It is as if Jesus said: “When you listen to me, can you not realize at once that what I am saying is God’s own truth?” The words of any genius are always self-evidencing. When we read great poetry we cannot for the most part say why it is great and grips our heart. We may analyse the vowel sounds and so on, but in the end there is something which defies analysis, but nevertheless easily and immediately recognizable. It is so with the words of Jesus. When we hear them we cannot help saying; “If only the world would live on these principles, how different it would be! If only I would live on these principles, how different I would be!”

(ii) He claimed to be tested by his deeds. He said to Philip: “If you cannot believe in me because of what I say, surely you will allow what I can do to convince you.” That was the same answer as Jesus sent back to John when he sent his messengers to ask whether Jesus was the Messiah, or if they must look for another. “Go back,” he said, “and tell John what is happening–and that will convince him” (Matthew 11:1-6). Jesus’ proof is that no one else ever succeeded in making bad men good.

Jesus said in effect to Philip: “Listen to me! Look at me! And believe!” Still the way to Christian belief is not to argue about Jesus but to listen to him and to look at him. If we do that, the sheer personal impact will compel us to believe.

Jesus is telling us how incredibly good we are in his and so in God’s eyes. He is affirming us as best he can saying that we can do marvellous things to bring about his kingdom. We don’t have to be priests or religious. When we do acts of love, forgive people, share with others and all this very often in small, hidden ways we participate in doing what Jesus was doing. We owe it to Jesus and God and ourselves to believe in our own capacity for greatness mostly through small daily acts of kindness. By the way we pass on the faith and gospel values to our children etc. Jesus believes in us, do we believe in ourselves?

Then when Jesus promises the disciples that there are many rooms in his father’s house, he is saying that Heaven is as wide as God’s heart which is limitless. He says that there is room for us all if we choose to go there.

“Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank you enough for all your goodness to us? Amen”.

Summary: Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled. . .

Therefore, you who trust in the Lord Jesus:

1. Let not your heart be troubled, because there’s a place for you in my Father’s house.

2. Let not your heart be troubled, because Jesus prepared the place for you. He opened the way. He is the way.

3. Let not your heart be troubled, because Jesus himself is your dwelling place and he will come and take you to himself.

4. Let not your heart be troubled, because Jesus and the Father are one, so that if you have Jesus, you have the Father.

5. Let not your heart be troubled, because Jesus has come in the Holy Spirit. He is with you now, and will be with you always, not as an observer, but a Helper.



Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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