May 13, 2017

5th Sunday of Easter: "I am the way and the truth and the life"

"I am in the Father and the Father is in me"

Acts 6: 1-7
1 Peter 2: 4-9
Jn 14: 1-12

Our Gospel this Sunday begins with the words that we heard spoken by the Angel Gabriel to Mary or by a parent to their frightened child: “Do not fear,” or “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus assures his disciples. The scene is at the Last Supper as Jesus encourages his disciples that although they will see what might appear to be the end of their Jesus dream, it is not the end but only the beginning of a greater plan by God.  Though Jesus will soon leave them after the resurrection, they will not be abandoned. So he assures them: Do not let your hearts be troubled.

But this is more than the loss of a dear friend.  It is more than just a temporary absence or a vacation in which they will be reunited again.  Jesus reassures his disciples they will have a place in his Father’s house (heaven) and so too will we.  Yet, in the meantime, we have a mission to carry out; that of Christ and the Apostles, which is the very mission of the Church in the power of the Spirit.

The question of Thomas, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” strikes me as reasonable as these disciples have not yet experienced the resurrection. They are thinking in earthly, logical terms.  Jesus, in John’s Gospel, speaks in spiritual terms so it is another example of their gradual understanding of who Jesus is and the purpose of his mission to humanity, which is God’s itself.  You see me, you see the Father – this is what God is like, Jesus tells and shows us. Although this intimate group had seen and heard much up to this point the fullness is still hidden from them.  Jesus challenges that idea: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?”

It may also be the question of our day.  Think for a moment.  What did these Apostles have to go on - The Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus himself.  How learned were they in the fine points of the sacred scriptures: the Torah, the Law and the Prophets?  Likely not to the point they were able to connect the dots very easily.  So, they had the person of Christ himself.  They heard his teaching and they witnessed strange and miraculous events. We see in the first reading from Acts how the Church, in the face of growth, responded creatively as the Holy Spirit led them to see a great need for equality and fairness among the Christians by the appointment of what we claim is the Deaconate.  Yet, they still didn’t have much more than the testimony of the Apostles to go on.

What do we have?  Thousands of years of Christian history: Theologians, Doctors of the Church, Saints, Tradition, the New Testament Scriptures, not to mention overwhelming technology and scientific knowledge among more that was completely not in the historical universe of ancient times.  Yet, we still ask the same question in this age of many distractions and miraculous medical science.  “You still do not know me?” Jesus addresses us. It is that every generation needs to hear the good news again and again.  The wealth of historical and spiritual treasure we have at our fingertips literally through the internet for example leaves us no excuse to remain unaware of the power of our Christian faith.

But, I think the focus of the Gospel and for our Christian lives is to once again hear the words of Jesus, which are astounding:  “I am the way and the truth and the life”  By this claim, he leaves for us no other choice and basically no option or “door number two” to walk through.  Jesus claims that he is THE way to the Father – to God; Jesus is the fullness of THE truth and he brings us the promise and hope of THE life.  If we find him, we need not search anywhere else and nothing else will fulfill or satisfy equally.

As absolute as that sounds even more, he implies nothing specific about  his teaching as such but states that HE is the way, truth and life.  His person, this man is alone all that we hope for!  While there are many spiritual and organized religious roads to walk in this world they all lead ultimately to Christ who is the fullness of truth. No other historical religious figure has ever made such a claim about himself.  Whether Moses, Buddah, Mohammed, or whoever, none ever claimed that they themselves were the way, truth and life.   

Does that mean that this is the perfect Church?  One look around may indeed cause us to winch in disbelief.  We are all sinners, imperfect people who daily work out our salvation.  Yet, the Church is perfect not because of us but because of its founder who is perfect.  The Church is Holy not because of us but in spite of us for Christ is its head.

Such a core belief on one side may sound pretty arrogant or small minded, maybe even intolerant of other religions who are filled with sincere and good non-Catholic Christian people.  Yet, the statement is more theological in the sense that if Jesus really is who he says he is, and we have no reason to doubt in these days with the benefits gained through the treasure I mentioned earlier, then we can humbly believe that the fullness of this message is contained in the Catholic Christian community. We do not exist to judge and diminish the quality of other Christian communities for example but to be the best of who we are.  

Our second reading from Peter reminds us who we are despite our flawed nature, through Baptism we are living stones in a spiritual house and precious in the sight of God.  Who me?  Yes, you and I.  We are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” called to greatness in the spiritual sense. So, maybe if we recognized our privilege not to be “holier than thou” but the privilege we hold in Christ to carry on his mission of self-less service, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, his good news in the world, we would not be so troubled by the world in which we live. To invite others to come to know the Lord Jesus in the ways we do it is more inspiring than simply words. We say what our Lord said to his first disciples: “Come and see.”

Jesus message of Shalom, peace and fullness, has gone beyond his resurrection address to his Apostles and remains his message to the world.  He provides a power of trust and hope that we can know is what it claims to be.  He is the way to the Father, the answer to our doubt, and the fullness of life that brings peace and harmony.    

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased t make new in Holy Baptism
may, under you protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

(Collect of Mass)