Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of John 14:1–12. In this reading we hear of Jesus preparing His disciples for His departure and the beneficial consequences it is intended to have for their lives and ministry. This passage from John’s Gospel is particularly profound and presents some important teachings for disciples. There are several points for our reflection and prayer.
Jesus first says to His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” When He uses the word “troubled”, He uses a word that expresses the trepidation a person experiences when confronted with the power of evil and death. Thus, He is saying to the disciples that they must stand firm even when it looks like evil and death have control over a situation. It is really a rallying cry for strength, confidence, courage, and perseverance in the face of such trials. Sometimes we need to be reminded to “let not our hearts be troubled” when we encounter seemingly hopeless situations. Think of how many people have faced the overwhelming conditions of war, systemic poverty, oppression, organized hatred, and so forth but have retained courage, confidence, and strength nonetheless. Jesus wanted to prepare His disciples for His imminent death on the cross, so He offers them this forewarning. Jesus wants to prepare us as well so we will remember that, through our Lord’s death and resurrection, the power of evil no longer has the last word. What are situations of evil that “trouble” you?How does a disciple who is courageous, confident, strong, and persevering respond to such situations?How does a disciple who is weak, afraid, doubting, and insecure respond to such situations?How can we help people who are facing overwhelming situations of evil or death to persevere with faith and confidence?
Jesus then says to His disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, and I am going to prepare a place for you.” The power of this statement cannot be underestimated. We oftentimes think of this statement as referring to a place in heaven, which is why this passage is so commonly used for funeral liturgies. However, we need to remember that throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been stressing the relationship He has with the Father in terms of “abiding” or “dwelling”. For example, in verse 14 Jesus spoke about how He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. When Jesus tells us that He is going to prepare a dwelling place for us in the Father’s house, what the Lord is really saying is that He will open to us the relationship He has with the Father so that we can share in it just as He shares in it. The place Jesus prepares for us in this passage, then, is about relationship, not location. It is about being given a part in a permanent life-giving relationship with God that allows us to experience heaven on earth through the indwelling Spirit of God in us. It is about accepting the gift of God’s life in us and responding to that divine initiative by offering our lives to God in return. Through Jesus, we now have a “place” in that divine relationship because He has opened that indwelling presence to us. When has someone opened a loving relationship and invited you to share in it?What is your response to the realization that Jesus is inviting you to become a co-participant in His relationship with the Father?The death of Jesus has many effects and beneficial consequences including the possibility of a new relationship with God. When you look at a crucifix, how does it change your appreciation of Calvary to know that Jesus died so that we could share in the life and love of God?Why do you think it was so important for Jesus that we share in the relationship He has with the Father?
Next, Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” In first century Judaism, the word “way” was used as a metaphor to describe “life with God.” Accordingly, Jesus is saying that He embodies life with God. He alone can reveal to us the face of the Father because He alone is the Word who was with God from all eternity and who is God. Those who seek heavenly realities must, in fact, seek Jesus who reveals them to us. The way of Jesus shows us that the Father is love and self-gift even unto death. If we are His disciples, then the way of Jesus must become our way so that we can share in that oneness of life with the Father. Jesus is Truth because He is the Word made flesh and reveals the truth of God to the world (Jn 1:14, 17–18, Jn 18:37). Jesus is Life because He brings God’s gift of life to the world (Jn 3:15–16). Lots of people in the time of Jesus were looking for the “way” to God. Some sought it in philosophies, others in mystical religious practices, still others in pagan rituals and drunken orgies. When Jesus tells us that He is the Way, He is inviting us to accept discipleship and follow Him in His life of revealing, sacrificial, self-giving love. That, Jesus says, will lead us to God. What are some of the erroneous ways people try to find God today (that is, how can people spend their time and energy “Looking for God in all the wrong places”)?How do people try to discount or circumvent the call to accept the way of Jesus in sacrificial self-giving love?Jesus reveals Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life not to tell us about Himself but so that we can know what He is offering us. Which of these three aspects of Jesus’ identity (way, truth, life) do you most desire to experience and why?How can a faith community better help people identify and choose the way of Jesus in their lives?
In further clarification of His role as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Jesus then says that, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” This statement is the summit of the Gospel of John concerning the significance of Jesus. This is the truth that drives the entire Gospel; Jesus has decisively and permanently changed the relationship between God and humankind. He is the door to the Father. He is the only begotten Son. He is the eternal Word made Flesh. To reject Jesus is to reject the Father; to accept the Father requires that we accept Jesus in whom the Father is revealed. Pope St. John Paul II reiterated this unique and necessary truth of Jesus as the sole means by which we can have access to the Father in the declaration entitled Dominus Iesus
However, there are many people who have never heard of Jesus both historically and even in present times. The Church has taught that the Holy Spirit can, in a way known only to God, bring about the gift of salvation in such persons when they sincerely respond to the movement of God in their lives. In a sense, it is possible for a person to actually respond to the Lord Jesus without realizing it is He to whom they are responding. Still, such an uninformed response lacks clarity and is inherently weakened because of that lack of awareness. This central truth of the Gospel concerning the necessity of Jesus as the only way to the Father serves as the missionary impetus for the Church. How do people today try to find God without seeking Jesus?What can distract spiritual people from seeking Jesus in their desire for encounter with God?What can we do as disciples to positively represent the message of Jesus so that others will want to learn more about Him?What opportunities exist for you to introduce someone to Jesus who does not yet know about Him?We live in a world of religious pluralism (meaning that people believe there are many valid ways to encounter God) and religious relativism (meaning that all ways are equal and no one way is better than the rest). How do these erroneous beliefs surface in your interactions with others, and how does the statement of Jesus in this Gospel passage affect the way you would respond in the face of such mistaken understandings?
Finally, Jesus says to His disciples, “You will do greater works than these.” We are then told that these greater works will explicitly take place because Jesus goes to the Father. This passage most likely refers to the missionary activity of the Church and the lived experience of disciples. Jesus was one person with one life to give. He lived in one time and in one place and died on Calvary by crucifixion. But there are millions of Christians throughout the world and throughout history. Many of these Christians have lived faithful and heroic lives showing us what communion with God looks like when it is pursued in the radical way of Jesus. Disciples are called to be people who are aware of God’s many redeeming and powerful works in their lives. Indeed, through the lives of faithful disciples, the Church has done “greater works than these”. Each Christian life presents a different nuance of how God’s effective and real grace manifests itself. Each Christian life shows how the divine indwelling of God becomes visible in works of self-giving and loving sacrifice. The forgiveness of John Paul II for his would-be assassin, the gentleness and dedication of Mother Teresa for the destitute and dying, the heroic witness of 20th
century Martyrs, the fidelity of a couple in a distressed marriage who seek to persevere in their vows, the courage of an alcoholic reaching out for God as his only strength, power and salvation are all examples of such manifestations of grace. The list can certainly go on. Through our sharing of life in relationship with God, we have provided the Lord with a myriad of ways in which God’s works can be accomplished in us and through us. Jesus is pleased when we exercise our rights as children of God! He knew what the Father had in store for us and for the world through us. What an awesome mission! What a humbling love and confidence. What are some of the works of God you see taking place in people’s lives today?What work do you think the Lord wants to accomplish in you today?What is the work the Lord wants to accomplish through you for someone else?Whose Christian witness inspires you in such a way that you see the power of God shining through it?
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus,
(6 August, 2000), 5: AAS
92, (2000), pp. 759-761.