Reading John 14:1-14
So this week is the second week of a series we are doing on John chapters 13-17 These chapters best known as the farewell discourse focus on Jesus final meal before his crucifixion. Over this meal Jesus shares his final teachings, his final hopes, his final disappointments, his final prayers for them. It is a powerful, intimate and sacred time and so I thought it was worth spending time reflecting on it together.
It is a part of the Bible that I have spent much time with this year. As I said last week in the tradition of the desert mothers and fathers, at the beginning of each year I ask for a word. A word to ponder and wrestle with over the year. This year the word I felt I was given is Abide from John 15:4. “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
And as I have pondered this word over the year, I have found myself moving outward from the word, to the verse, to the chapter and then to the whole 5 chapters.
What John does in these chapters is quite different to the other 3 gospels. Matthew and Mark give only 15 verses to this meal, Luke gives 25 but John 5 chapters.
In the synoptics Jesus begins with what now know as the institution of the Lord’s Supper but John with Jesus washing the feet of the twelve. An action that was pre-figured by Mary in chapter 12, This foot washing is followed by Judas leaving to betray Jesus which we discussed last week. Then Jesus tells the 12 he will only be with them for a little longer and gives them a new commandment, to love one another as I have loved you. Peter asks where Jesus is going and Jesus tells him, “where I am going you cannot follow.” Peter, ever headstrong promises to lay down his life for Jesus, to which Jesus tells him that, rather than this, Peter will in fact deny him three times.
Given all this we can understand why the disciples hearts were troubled. None the less Jesus says, “do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” And then he makes this beautiful promise to them, “in my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the place where I am going.”
This text is frequently read at funerals, and for good reason. For many, including me, it has been profoundly comforting in the face of the death and grief. But this text is not only about life after death, it is also about our lives here and now. John is the Incarnational gospel, the idea that we have to wait until some future date to achieve full intimacy with God is foreign to it. The dwelling places are the noun form of the verb of abide.
Jesus’ farewell words to his disciples anticipate and assume the events that lie ahead: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension. Each one of these realities is the result of the primary theological event in the Gospel of John, the incarnation. The disciples are going to be faced with the end of the incarnation, the end of Jesus’ presence on earth as God but Jesus needs them to know that there is more beyond that.
But for the anxious Thomas it is very confusing and confronting. “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” he asks.
Jesus responds, I am the way, the truth and the life.”
In the context of this conversation this statement by Jesus is a word of comfort to the bewildered disciple in front of him. However, personally for me it has baggage. Most teaching I have experienced on this statement has been exclusive, self assured, oppositional and even threatening.
And so wading through all that I have been pondering what does it mean for Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. As I said last week I don’t know that I have the definitive answer to that, but in pondering this text, I have been led to some new understandings. This is the extraordinary thing about Scripture when you sit with over time. You realise the job is to ask it questions, to wrestle with it and when you do, it reveals things to you.
So I have been thinking, if Jesus is the way then the way is not a list of clear rules that we must all follow generically at all times and all circumstances. This week Benj, Ben and I met as the CAMT and we were talking about, if Jesus is the way, it is going to be ever evolving, and often confusing because it’s going to be about relationships and responding to the place you are in and the people around you. That’s not to say that anything goes. Jesus in his life models a deep commitment to the Torah, that is the Jewish teaching or law found in the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew in it there was deep wisdom and knowledge about life and how to honour God and others and the land. But because he knew it well and practised it, he also knew that sometimes to be fully true to that law required breaking the rules. For example when he healed on the Sabbath, spoke with a Samaritan woman alone, did not condemn a woman who had committed adultery to death or repay violence with violence. If Jesus is the way, the way is not an inflexible policy and procedures document. Sometimes we too might find ourselves breaking so called rules to be more inclusive, to keep someone safe, to demonstrate the love of Christ.
If Jesus is the truth then the truth matters. The truth matters more than the reputation of any person or institution. While people will of course change their minds, forget certain details, experience things differently (and this is ok) we should not accept lies. If Jesus is the truth, the truth will be confronting. In the face of it we cannot deny our sin nor the sins of our ancestors and how they impact on today. But if Jesus is the truth, it will also set us free.
And finally, if Jesus is the life, then life will be risky, demanding and more than a little bit messy because its going to be about love. It will not be measured by how much money we made, how much stuff we acquired, how many places we visited, even how many children we had. It will not be measured by how successful we were but how faithful we were. Sometimes we won’t know exactly what to do. Sometimes there will be no exact right thing to do or right way to go. Things will take time. It will involve trust, patience, and vulnerability.
Philip asks for proof: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus echoes an affirmation from the prologue of John’s Gospel: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known.”
This is the whole of Jesus’ mission, to make known the Father, to reveal who God is. If we want to know who God is, then we look at Jesus.
And so again I come back to the word – abide. “Abide in me as I abide in you. We must make time to abide. To know Jesus requires more than a quick glance, more than a skim read. We must make time to spend with Jesus.
And so let us take a moment to do that, this morning to abide in the love of God as we ponder the reading and the words spoken today.