Fifth Sunday of Easter
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” With this metaphor, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that he will be going ahead of them to the Father, and he will prepare a place there for each one of them. He will come back, he tells them, and take them to himself, “so that where I am you also may be.” He intended this as a very reassuring statement. Yes, he must go in a little while; but he will bring each of them there someday, so that they will never be separated from him again. They will be with him in the Father’s house eternally, because he has prepared their place. As his disciples, joined to him in baptism, they are joined to him forever. “Where I am, you also may be.”
To his disciples, however, this was not particularly reassuring. At least not until they could have some time to understand the meaning of who he really was. What did he mean, he was going to the Father’s house? That could mean only one thing: he was going to depart this world. And if he were going to do that, how could he become the great political ruler that they had been expecting — that they assumed the Messiah would be? Wasn’t he going to take hold of his kingdom and rule from Jerusalem, and finally kick out all these foreign empires and put them in their place? Wasn’t that how he was going to fulfill God’s covenant and bring salvation to Israel, and cause the Gentiles to know the God that Israel had known for so long? If not with a political kingdom like the one David had ruled, then how would he redeem the world?
It would not be until later that they would hear him say to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It would not be until they saw him resurrected that they would understand he had come to save them not from political powers, but from something much more important and dangerous. He had come to save them, and us, from the darkness that exists in each one of us as part of our human nature. The salvation he offers is to save us from ourselves, and the redemption he offers is to redeem us from ourselves, and in so doing show us the reality of Resurrection and bring us into the eternal light of God.
As Thomas Merton writes, “salvation” in Christianity “reflects God’s own infinite concern for man, God’s love and care for man’s inmost being, God’s love for all that is His own in man. It is not only human nature that is ‘saved’ by the divine mercy, but above all the human person. The object of salvation is that which is unique, irreplaceable, incommunicable — that which is myself alone. This true inner self must be drawn up like a jewel from the bottom of the sea… To be ‘saved’ is to return to one’s inviolate and eternal reality and to live in God” (New Seeds of Contemplation). This is one of the most exquisite explanations of the Christian concept of salvation that I have ever read.
But for now, for the disciples, there are only questions. In the midst of their confusion they then hear him say, “Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas asks what they all must have been thinking. “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” It would be like telling a friend that you’re going to lunch, and then telling them to meet you there without saying what the restaurant is. But Jesus lets Thomas know it’s a lot more straightforward than they thought. “I am the way,” he answers. The way to the Father’s house is Jesus himself, because “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Now it is Philip’s turn to prove his confusion. “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” We can imagine the gentleness in Jesus’ voice as he looks at Philip and answers, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” There lies the heart of the truth that Jesus wants them to know. He is the mind, the self of God, God’s idea of Godself, now become embodied in a discrete human being, the Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). The Logos of God had chosen the humble Mary as a human mother and become a corporeal Person for our sakes.
So there is no need, Jesus tells his disciples, to be mystified about who the Father is or how to find him. Who Jesus is, he tells his disciples, is who his Father is. They are of the same nature, one in being, Christ begotten from the Father, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,” in the words of the Nicene Creed.
Redeemer, help us to seek and find you who are the Way, and by coming to know you, know the mind of our Creator. Lead us to your Father’s house, to the place you have prepared for each of us.
Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Keck