5th Sunday of Eastertime May 10th 2020
You remember the first words in our gospel (John 14,1-12)? First Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Obviously, his friends, his followers are upset, so it is a kindly directive. And second, Jesus elaborates the reason they should not be upset, this is the essence of what he wants to teach them. The initiating statement of Jesus is this: “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Notice the two levels of meaning: The first level is practical: “Trust me, I am your friend, I never disappointed you.” But the second level requires much more consideration: “I am so much at one with God that you can belief in me in exactly the way you believe in God!”
Jesus is aware of the fact that his friends do not understand him. He then uses one of his parable-like stories to clarify. The Father has a house somewhere with a whole lot of rooms in it. Jesus has decided to go there and prepare a spot for each of his friends. And Jesus will come back and take them to that place so that they and Jesus will all be together again. This would be a supremely consoling image for us, isn’t it? We have known Jesus now for 2000 years. Consoling for us - but not to the disciples. At this point, the disciples are not ready to do without Jesus even for a few moments.
Remember when Jesus had asked them if they were going to leave him, also in John’s gospel. Peter had said, “Where would we go—you have the words of eternal life”? Now Jesus himself is the one leaving. And his friends still do not understand his intention, do not understand who he is.
So Jesus tries another explanation, extending the image of “the way”. Jesus says: “Where I am going you know the way.” This seems at last a practical statement – a statement that even doubting Thomas can deal with. Thomas says: “Sure, we could find a map and locate a path and follow it. But look, we can’t even know where you are going! Be practical!” Jesus’ statement was a play on words, not “practical” in the way Thomas expects it. “I am the way” says Jesus, he does not say: “I show you the way on the map.” Jesus himself is “the way.” This meaning is much deeper. The way to the Father is not a literal roadway but rather the person of Jesus!
Philip barks out: “Look, Master, just show us the Father and we will be satisfied”! Jesus answers: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The apostles, practical and broken-hearted, hear mainly the pragmatic level. But Jesus coaches them on to the spiritual level. The disciples, his friends do not understand what he wants to say. The way to the Father is not a literal roadway but rather the person of Jesus!
For us, 2000 years later, after centuries with many many theological reflections, it is easier to understand: we are listening to the deepest mystery of the whole Christian faith — the way God can become a complete human being without ceasing to be God or human. Jesus did his best to show it to the disciples in today’s Gospel, with images, with a story, and a description. Maybe it is now up to us to cling to Jesus in prayer and contemplative listening, so that we too can move toward the answer. Even when we are feeling threatened by the corona virus. The way to the Father is the person of Jesus! is a relation with him, is his friendship.
Fr. Wolfgang Felber SJ