John 14:1-12 (5th Sunday of Easter, year A)
|Late Roman Empire apsidal mosaic from the Church of Santa Pudenziana, Rome|
Before they die, a leader will often give to their followers their Last Will and Testament, in which they give one final teaching or last set of instructions. For example, St. Pope John Paul II wrote a Last Will and Testament that was published after his death. This document was quoted in newspapers around the world. For good reason, people tend to pay close attention to the Last Will and Testament of famous leaders. In such a speech or document, leaders gets one final opportunity to leave some “last words” with their followers. They tend to make these words count!
We should pay close attention to the Gospel of today because it is part of Jesus’ Last Will and Testament. The Gospel passage that we just heard is from a section of the Gospel of John that is usually called the Farewell Discourse. This section comes right after Jesus has washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper and right before He begins His Passion. It is the last opportunity that Jesus has to speak with His followers. In the Farewell Discourse, of which we heard only the first part today, Jesus does three things:
- Offers consolation. Prior to his death, Jesus wants to comfort his followers by making sure that they will be taken care of. He wants them to ensure that their “hearts are not troubled”.
- Sum up the purpose of His life and teaching. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus is clear about His mission: He has been sent by the Father to reunite us with the Father and make us His sons and daughters. Jesus does this both by revealing the Father to us by His words and actions and by His Passion death and resurrection. Jesus is clear that He and He alone can perform this vital mission.
- Appoints a successor. Because He will soon be returning to His Father, Jesus will no longer be present to His disciples in the same way. Jesus however, will not abandon them. He explains that He will send a successor to be present and guide all His followers. This successor is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit.
These are the important points that Jesus makes throughout His Last Will and Testament.
The farewell discourse of Christ should fill us with peace and consolation. A portion of today’s Gospel should should very familiar because it is often read at funerals. This is the part when Jesus explains to His followers that there are many rooms in His Father’s house. Whenever I hear this, I am struck by how personal this message is. Imagine that you have been away from your family for years. Perhaps you were working abroad or studying in some foreign country. Finally the moment has arrived for you to return home. After your plane lands at YVR, you take a cab back to your family home. When you arrive at the house, you see your loved ones waiting for you at the front door. You leave the cab and embrace them. Eventually you are shown inside the house to a room that has been lovingly prepared just for you. If this happened to you, would you not feel special? Would you not feel peace and consolation? Jesus’ words are meant to make us feel this way. He wants us to know that we are taken care of not just now, but for all eternity. Jesus has prepared a room has lovingly been prepared just for each one of us.
In His Last Will and Testament, Jesus makes us clear that He and only He can prepare this place for us in the Father’s house. I really enjoy visiting students in the school or in catechism class. Sometimes I ask the student some questions. Regardless of the the question, students invariably give the same answer each time: Jesus! They think that this is always the correct answer. With respect to this Gospel, the students would be right. Jesus tells His followers that He is the way, the truth and the life. We need to remember that Jesus is not saying that He is a way, a truth and a life. No, what Jesus is saying is very provocative and very challenging. He is the way, the truth and the life. With this He affirms the thinking of those students. It is as though He is saying, “the answer is Jesus, it is always Jesus!” What does it mean that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life? By telling us this, Jesus reminds us that of a few things:
- Because He is the way, everyone who goes to heaven goes there because of Jesus. Anyone who is reunited with God, regardless of when they lived or what religion they professed is reunited because of Jesus, whether they believe in Him or not.
- Because Jesus is the truth, He alone fully reveals who God is and how we should live as human beings. Certainly we can find truth in other religions and philosophies, but the fullness of this truth is only found wholly in Jesus.
- Because He is the life, all human beings benefit from being in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He alone can fill the human heart.
Jesus is very clear in His farewell discourse that He and He only prepares a place for us in the Father’s house.
We need the courage to hold fast to this message and not water it down. Jesus’ statement that He is the way, the truth and the life was incredibly provocative and controversial when He said it. It is no less radical today. In our western culture it is considered rude at best and hateful at worst to claim that there is one truth that is applicable to all people. In the name of tolerance, we are told that all truths are relative. In this way of thinking, though I could say that it is true and right for me personally to follow Jesus and His way, I could never say that that is true and right for all people. Inconveniently, however, Jesus says just that! Now, I am not suggesting that we shove our beliefs down other people’s throats. It is helpful to remember the words of St. John Paul II:
We must make clear to all our brothers and sisters that the Church imposes nothing; she only proposes.
The Church imposes nothing, but she proposes everything. We need to make sure that we propose to others what Jesus wants us to propose. This is hard for me. When I am speaking with friends who are not Christian it is easier for me to say that I try to put Jesus at the center of my life and this makes me happy. It is a lot harder to say that I believe that it is best if they too try to put Jesus at the center of their lives. It is not easy to propose to others that they will be happier and live a better life if they are in a relationship with Jesus and follow the way of life He showed us. It is hard but that is the message Jesus has left us. It takes courage to hold fast to this message and not water it down.
The Last Will and Testament of someone is a very special and even sacred thing. We pay close attention to the last words of someone. We respect them and would never want to change them. In His farewell discourse Jesus fills us with consolation in knowing that we are taken care of. At the same time, He leaves us with an incredible challenging message: I am the way, the truth and the life. Let us respect the Last Will and Testament of Jesus by holding fast to this message and ask for the courage to propose this message to those we encounter. Or in the words of those students: Jesus! The answer is always Jesus!