Weekly Gospel Reflection — 18 May 2014
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in [G‑d]. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”
Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
The setting of this passage is very intimate. I mean, we shouldn’t be eavesdropping kind of intimate. In the preceding chapters, Jesus and the disciples had the “Last Supper,” although, it wasn’t called that yet. It was a very solemn meal. Jesus told them he was going to die soon. He said one of them would betray him. Judas left the group to do that very thing. And now, Jesus tries to comfort their heavy hearts and troubled minds.
He tells them that he’s preparing a place for them. Most of us have understood this to be “heaven.” I don’t think that’s quite right. “Heaven,” in biblical terms, is another way of saying “paradise” (Luke 23.32-33; 39-43). That is, “heaven” is the waiting place before the fully restored New Creation where humanity will live in resurrected bodies.
In other words, Jesus isn’t talking about the waiting place. He’s talking about the New Creation. He’s telling them that he’s preparing the final place. The place when G‑d’s space and our space become one space (Revelation 21-22). It’s the New Creation that has all of the space. That’s what’s preparing.
Next, notice that Jesus just doesn’t say he’s coming to take them to this place. He tells them that they know the way to that place. So Jesus is going to accompany them along the way. They won’t bypass the way. They’ll still have to travel along the way.
When Thomas asks about the way, Jesus tells him that he’s the way. Jesus isn’t saying that he’s a path or a trail. He’s saying that he embodies The Way. His very life — and, yes, his death — are The Way. He’s not talking about belief alone; about putting a check mark in a box. He’s talking about action. Going The Way of Jesus, living The Way of Jesus, being The Way of Jesus is about action. It’s about doing, living, being. Belief is important. But belief without action is worthless (James 2.20-26).
Next comes the infamous “I’m the only way to heaven” passage. The one church-folk have been beating people with for quite a while (at least in my neck of the woods).
And you know what? I think they may be right. But not in the way one might think. Let me explain what I mean. I don’t know if I’m outside of orthodoxy or not (and I don’t really care one way or the other), but my thoughts run something like this:
- The resurrection of Jesus changed history. It was the hinge or turning point for all creation. As Paul said, “This message (the gospel) has been preached throughout all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1.23; CEB).
- The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus didn’t just make it possible for all humanity to be in covenant relationship with G‑d, it actually put all people in that relationship. Paul again, “[G‑d] reconciled all things to [G‑dself] through [Jesus] — whether things on earth or in the heavens. He brought peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1.20; CEB).
- Therefore, because of Jesus, all humanity has now been reconciled to G‑d. Paul once more, “G‑d was reconciling the world to [G‑dself] through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5.19; CEB).
So, Jesus is the only way to the Father-Mother. But that way already includes everyone. Instead of fighting about who’s in and who’s out, we need to see each other as our siblings (Acts 17.28; cf. Ephesians 2.14-16; Ephesians 4.6).
And that last part ties in to my final point. Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father-Mother. Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father-Mother.” This has been my point for a while now — the people of Jesus’ time, his fellow Jews, misunderstood G‑d. They had the wrong picture. That’s Philip’s point. His understanding of G‑d doesn’t line up with Jesus. Jesus’ response exposed that. He is what G‑d’s really like. If you want to know what G‑d is like, look to Jesus. In other words, G‑d isn’t hidden. As Paul said, “G‑d made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, G‑d isn’t far away from any of us. In G‑d we live, move, and exist” (Acts 17.27-28).
But this revelation about G‑d doesn’t stop there. There’s something else going on. Philip didn’t recognize G‑d when G‑d was right in front of him. How many of us have missed G‑d because we were expecting G‑d to be or act or look a certain way? We build up a certain view of G‑d in our mind but G‑d is so much more than that image. To be quite blunt, what we think is G‑d is really an idol.
In the Lindisfarne Community, our prayer is, “to be as Christ to those we meet; to find Christ within them.” This really changed my life. It made me stop and look at each person differently. To look past my own prejudices and realize that “We’re all [G‑d’s] offspring” (Acts 17.28).
The reason we can’t find G‑d in the world is because we’re not looking. That is, we look, but we don’t really see or understand (Matthew 13.13). We have to move past our preconceived ideas of what G‑d looks like, of what G‑d sounds like. We have to look past the falseness, the things that are broken to the light of G‑d within each person. When we do that, we’ll start to see G‑d in each other. We’ll see that G‑d is in our Mothers. Our sisters. Our brothers. Our fathers. G‑d is in our neighbors. Our friends. Our co-workers. G‑d is in the person of color. In those of different religious traditions. And those who have no religion. G‑d is in the Catholic. In the Orthodox. In the Protestant. In the Muslim. In the Buddhist. In the Jew. In the Christian. G‑d is in our children. G‑d is in our pets. In our gardens and forests. In our oceans. All creation is a picture of G‑d. We just need eyes to see. And ears to hear.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC