5/10/2020 Fifth Sunday of Easter (and Mother’s Day) The text is John 14:1-14.
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So often we read in the gospels that Jesus castigates the disciples for not understanding his true identity, his mission, and his purpose. At different times he tells them they are foolish, dull, they have ears but do not hear, and that their hardened hearts keep them from understanding. I delved rather deeply into this concept of perpetually obtuse disciples. But, try as I might, I wasn’t able to find anything in the Greek translation of the gospels that I think was the term that Jesus would have used, were it part of the language of the time. And that is; ‘knucklehead’. I know this seems harsh, but after a good deal of thought, I’m comfortable with the term. We read that Jesus spends an awful lot of time attempting to get the disciples to understand what he truly became incarnate to achieve; what his ministry is all about, and what he expects from them, his followers. And on the many occasions that he seems to be frustrated with their thick-headedness, I like to think that if ‘knucklehead’ were a common term in Israel at the time, Jesus would have used it. In verse 9 of John this morning, Jesus said to Phillip, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”. Every time I read this verse, in my mind I add, “you ‘knucklehead’, Phillip”.
When I was a youngster, my Irish father used to say to me, and as I recall very frequently, ’don’t be an ‘eejit’. This rather obscure Irish term, I later discovered is spelled “e-e-j-i-t’. Eejit. Not being any the wiser, I didn’t learn until many years later, that it’s actually the way Irish folks pronounce, ‘idiot’. As in; “Don’t be an eejit!”. And, I’m actually rather thankful that my dad, like Jesus, wasn’t familiar with, ‘knucklehead’, or he would have used that term to describe me with great regularity. Like the disciples, and all teenagers, I didn’t ‘get it’ either.
But, to be fair, Jesus makes a habit of asking the disciples, and really everyone around him, to accept some pretty challenging concepts. The Jewish people were expecting a warrior Messiah to defeat their Roman occupiers and return the people to freedom. But Jesus’ entire ministry centered on his identity as God’s Son, become incarnate to redeem all people, and restore a righteous relationship with God. Not exactly what the people expected. I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh on the disciples; if we were in their shoes we would probably be ‘knuckleheads’ too; and maybe even, ‘eejits’.
As we’ve noted before, the lectionary often selects Sunday readings that don’t fall along a direct timeline. Easter was four weeks ago, yet this morning we read a portion of Jesus’ so-called “Final Discourse” to his disciples. His words to them this morning took place just after he washed their feet on Maundy Thursday and he has given them the command to “love one another”. Peter has told Jesus he would follow him wherever he went, and Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times. The disciples are understandably upset at the prospect of Jesus’ departure. Thus, the admonition, “do not let your hearts be troubled”. Just “believe”; in Jesus and in the Father.
At this point it is Jesus’ intention to soothe the fears of the disciples and to reassure them. Thomas tells Jesus they don’t know the way to where Jesus is going. And, here it is, one of the most important, profound statements that Jesus makes. “I am the Way”. There are seven “I am” statements of Jesus found in John; “I am”…
the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd, the vine, the Light of the World; and others. But this morning Jesus, sensing the fear and worry that has overcome the twelve, and wanting to reassure them, lays it out plainly for them. He doesn’t resort to parable, metaphor, or a simplified cultural reference. Just, “I am the Way”. Even a “knucklehead” would understand this simple, direct language. While this was intended to give to the disciples the understanding of how they might ultimately follow the road that Jesus prepares for them; and us, to eternal life with the Father; as always, there is more to the story. These verses are usually read at funerals, as we rejoice in the knowledge that the departed is following the Way of Jesus, returning home to eternal life with the Trinity in Heaven. And although Jesus tells us there are many mansions in the Father’s house, where the Way leads after death, his “I am” statement concludes with Jesus proclaiming he is also, “the truth, and the Life”. Following the Way of Christ Jesus doesn’t begin at a road that leads to life eternal, it’s starting point is our baptism. Once we are blessed to be part of the family of God, we become followers of Jesus, and we are travelling on this road, this Way, this Greek, “hodos”.
And, as so often happens, the Koine Greek word is rich with layers of meaning. The primary translation of “hodos” refers to a road; but it is often used metaphorically to describe the journey itself, and also may be used to characterize the manner of one’s thoughts, feelings, and conduct. So, it would appear that Jesus did, in fact simplify his message so that Peter, Thomas, Phillip, and the other “knuckleheads” would catch on. Yet, he also tells them that as followers of Christ’s Way, that they are empowered to accomplish great things in his name. And that he will do those things he is asked for, if the request is made in Jesus’ name. But we must approach this promise with discernment; remember, this entire speech of Jesus is meant to calm the anxiety and fear of the disciples, and by extension, us. He is promising to be with us along the Way, his Way, through the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that his work on earth serves to glorify the Father and the Son and that the Spirit also travels the Way, the road of this life with us.
It is incumbent upon us as Christ-followers to serve as his hands and feet, as he works with and through us to accomplish his mission and purpose in the world. These may not be obvious, sensational events; more often than not, Christ’s work happens in small, quiet, often unnoticed ways. Yet wherever the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, or the sick are comforted and healed, this is God’s work being done; and this happens when followers of the Way of Christ serve others in his name. These are the “greater works” that Jesus refers to, and these are the things that he provides when they are asked for in his name. Wherever abundant life is celebrated and shared, this is when we know that we are on the right path, the proper road, the true Way of Christ Jesus. Even “knuckleheads” like us can perceive the truth in this. Yes, even us “eejits”.
Yet, these are, truly difficult times, for all of God’s people. The world is beset with an illness that continues to take the health and the lives of so many. We are isolated, kept from our friends and neighbors, and especially from our brothers and sister in the faith; those who remain on the Way with us. But, “do not let your hearts be troubled”, Jesus reminds us this morning. Believe in God and in him, he counsels us. For, Jesus is the Way, and the truth, and the life. This pandemic will end, and we will again gather together.
We will share the bread and the wine, we will hear God’s Word, and we will be uplifted by the notes streaming forth from the organ pipes in the Nave. We’re not certain as to precisely when we will join together for worship and fellowship, and we’re not sure what the “new normal” will look like. But, “do not let your hearts be troubled”, for Jesus does hear our prayers, and he will do for us what we ask of him. He is the Way of abundant life, and through the Holy Spirit, he travels the road of this life, right alongside us.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, we know the Way of your Son, Jesus. And we follow the road he has set out for us. Guide us in our travels, so that we remain strong in faith and that we trust in his Way, his Truth, and his promise of Life.
And in the name of Jesus Christ, who shows us the Way together we say…
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good.