An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Easter A, John 14:1-12, May 22, 2011
One of the recurring themes of the late (now Blessed) John Paul II’s visit to Ukraine on June 23-27, 2001 was unity. In his Mass at the hippodrome of Lviv for the beatification of Bp Josef Bilczewski and Fr Zygmunt Gorazdowski, he said, for instance: “Let us feel ourselves gently nudged to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel of not a few Christians of both Polish and Ukrainian origin living in these parts. It is time to leave behind the sorrowful past. The Christians of two nations must walk together in the name of one Christ… May the purification of historical memories lead everyone to work for the triumph of what unities over what divides, in order to build together a future of mutual respect, fraternal cooperation and true solidarity.” At the Lviv airport before leaving for Rome, he said that unity “is the secret of peace and the condition for a true and stable social progress.”
This means not only that nations should not quarrel, but also that a nation may isolate herself. Like America. As Michael Hirsh puts it in his article “The Death of the Founding Myth” Newsweek (Special Davos Edition), “like it or not—and clearly large numbers of Americans don’t—we Americans are now part of an organic whole with the world that George Washington wanted to keep distant. The international community consists of nations that have different characters but are sinewed together through deeper markets than have ever existed and a historic level consensus on the general shape of societies, politics, human rights and international law.” For a Christian, however, there is a deeper rationale behind human solidarity. There is something that engulfs all of us, draws us together, and to which our earthly pilgrimage leads us. That something is our origin in God, and we will be at peace with ourselves and with others only when we have become united not only with mankind but with God himself. Thus, St Augustine can say that our heart has been made for God, and it will remain restless until it rests on him.
Which is why Jesus, in today’s Gospel, speaks of preparing a place for us so that where he is we may also be: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places… I am indeed going to prepare a place for you and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be” (John 14:2-3). But how can one dwell in the mansion of God? How can he be united with the Father? Jewish conventional wisdom teaches that it is achieved through the observance of the law: “Who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell in your holy mountain? He who walks blamelessly and does justice” (Ps 15:1-2). Literally of course, the text is about one’s being worthy to enter God’s sanctuary, but the substance is there. Thus Prophet Baruch: “Had you walked in the way of the Lord, you would have dwelt in enduring peace” (Bar 3:13). For a Christian, however, it would not be enough to follow the law. Keeping the law may bring some form of peace to a person or to a community, but it would never bring one to an experience of God’s life. It is not insignificant that Matthew makes Jesus declare: “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 5:20).
The unity with God is given to a Christian not so much by following the law, as by being in communion with Jesus, for “no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6b). To bring home the point, John has Jesus say: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6a). These three terms used to describe Jesus has to be explained. The term “way” depicts the mediatorial role of Jesus between the community of men and God the Father. It is unfortunately that, for some people, religion is about theories or laws that should regulate relationships. Of course, these are important, but these do not belong to the heart of Christianity. It is not even about duplicating the crucifixion, as some people are inclined to think. Christianity is first of all about the person of Jesus. It is Jesus who is the way to God, not a formula to be observed or magic words to be uttered. If we wish to be united with the Father, then we have to be united with Jesus, we have to be committed to him, and follow his way of life. That is why Paul can say: “Continue to live in Christ the Lord in the spirit which you receive him” (Col 2:6). The way of life that he lived, which is that of a loving obedience to the Father’s will, is what is of importance. Hence, Paul says: “Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you. He gave himself for us as an offering to God, a gift of pleasing fragrance” (Eph 5:2).
The claim that he is the truth underlines his mediation of the Father’s revelation. He is the way precisely because he is the truth. This recalls what the Matthean Jesus affirms: “No one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son—and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matt 11:27). It is strange that some people are anxious to hear about new revelation from God, when God has already fully revealed himself in Jesus. The life of Jesus, that is the life of God; what Jesus taught, that is the teaching of God. In the words of a New Testament writer, “in this the final age, [God] has spoken to us through his Son” (Heb 1:1). John himself makes a similar affirmation: “No one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed him” (John 1:18). Hence, if we wish to know the goal of our existence, and the way how to reach it, we only have to hear it from Jesus himself.
The reason for this is that he is the life. If the term “way” depicts his mediatorial role between God and men, and if “truth” expresses his mediation of revelation, the term “life” used to describe Jesus emphasizes his mediation of salvation, which is none other then life with God, unity with him. As we noted earlier, it is only in being in communion with Jesus that one can be in communion with the Father. It is for this unity and life that he came: “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). So long as we do not have life, our heart will remain restless, because it was for the experience of this life that we were created. In fact, the present realization that all mankind is just one family, the experience that after all the world is one global village—this is to be taken as sign that finally the world is becoming aware that we are moving to a certain goal, which for a Christian is none other than union with God, but made possible through union with the risen Lord.