Fr. Thomas Karamakuzhiyil
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tried to do, convince the disciples that there is no need to be afraid, even when he is not there with them.“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1a). The Greek text shows that the disciples are already afraid and Jesus is asking them here to master their fears. What reason does Jesus give them? It is both simple and profound: “You believe in God, believe also in me” (14:1b). It is easy to believe in God, a spiritual being that we cannot see. The challenge is to believe in ordinary, flesh-and-blood human beings whom we know all too well already. The challenge is to believe in the incarnation, that the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God is present and active in ordinary human beings who are often lacking in knowledge, in love, and in moral strength. You believe in God (that is the easy part), believe also in me, a presumably frail human being (that is the hard part).The disciples see God in Jesus. So long as he is around, there is no fear. But they do not see God in their fellow disciples. They are just too human, subject to the shortcomings and weaknesses of ordinary mortals. The disciples set Jesus apart. They put him on a different platform from themselves.
It is interesting to note that all the reasoning that Jesus offers to persuade them not to fear is pitched on the exact opposite camp. Jesus is trying to convince them that if God could work through him, Jesus, then God could as well work through any other human being. Jesus places himself on the same platform with them so as to make them believe that God can use them and work through them in spite of their human deficiencies. In fact, in order to drive home this point, Jesus even goes as far as placing the disciples on a higher platform than himself as people through whom God can work: “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” (verse 12). But today, many of us are like Philip; our prayer is, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (verse 8). Show us that God is with us in the church. Show us that God is alive and actively involved in events in our world today. What does Jesus answer? “How can you say, 'Show us the Father.’?”(verse 9). When God is so deeply involved in the events and crises of the church and of the world. You see, the incarnation (God becoming flesh) has removed the wall of division between the divine and the human. The history of God and the history of humanity have become inextricably intertwined. The story of the kingdom of God, which Jesus came to inaugurate, cannot be told apart from the story of the church in the world. God took a risk when God decided to become human. Whether the divine risk will issue in success or failure is up to us.
There is a phrase that Jesus uses here, over which some people trip: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Don’t let that make you stumble. Do not imagine Jesus the Way as constructed of paving stones that can be pried up and used to attack our neighbours. Jesus is describing his power, his ability to overcome both our inability and our pride as they relate to our faith. He is reminding his followers that none of us makes our own way to God. We aren’t earning a way to God by our faith or our practice or how strongly we believe in Jesus. We aren’t succeeding in something that people of other faiths are failing at. That’s not the point here. The point is that, though we are weak, Jesus is strong. Though we get distracted, Jesus stays focused. Though we stumble, Jesus holds onto us.
Jesus was talking to people whose families thought they might be crazy for following him. He was talking to people who were risking their livelihoods and lives to call him Saviour. He was talking to people who were worried about the consequences of Jesus’ reputation rubbing off on them—Jesus’ reputation as someone who disturbed the status quo, who associated with the wrong people, who got lifted on a cross instead of climbing a ladder, whose healing of the man born blind proved that you can’t look at someone who is ill and reject them as a sinner, whose death proved that innocence isn’t a guarantee against suffering, whose resurrection proved that death isn’t the end of the story, whose ascension to God’s right hand means that there is nowhere now that scarred and frail human flesh cannot be taken, and live, even in the very presence of God, whose whole life proved that nothing is stronger than the God who is Love.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Keep going. The footing is sure. The path is solid. You cannot get lost. God won’t let you go. Jesus offers assurance that following him is the way to know God, the way to an abundant life, the way to peace and joy, no matter our circumstances. Following Jesus is not crazy, a waste of time, or a dead-end road. Jesus is the way. Stay on the path and keep going. God gives us a way that is steadfast when all feels like sinking sand, a truth that is certain when all feels slippery, a life that is assured when all is shifting because God gives us a person, Jesus, to be the Way for us.