The Gospel text we are presented with today is the opening passage of what we call the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. At the Last Supper the feet of the disciples have been washed, Judas has left the room and Jesus has predicted Peter’s denial; at this point Jesus begins a long discourse which extends over four chapters.
This Farewell Discourse is a kind of last instruction for his disciples during which Jesus recapitulates his teaching, tries to give them reassurance and prepares them for the dramatic events of the next couple of days. The language used is often very tender and it is clear that Jesus is speaking to them with a heavy heart but with great love.
The opening words today are a good example of this, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.’ Jesus doesn’t want to cause the disciples any anxiety but he is insistent that they understand just what is about to happen. Most of all he needs to be sure that they fully appreciate the content of his teaching and that they will hold on to it.
Obviously, Jesus does not want to upset the disciples but he still wants them to be absolutely clear that he is going to face death. He intends that they realise that death is not the end but the beginning of a new and better life with God in heaven. Hence his roundabout way of speaking, ‘I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be too.’ You might think that this sounds rather elliptical and unclear; but remember the text extends over four chapters and by using non-alarmist words like this Jesus gradually gets his message across to them.
Of course, the disciples are not going to understand everything that Jesus says all at once; however, they will recall much of what he says as they face the events of the next few days and their recollection of these words will give them reassurance at a desperate time.
You can see the disciples' confusion and lack of understanding reflected in Thomas’ words when he says, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way.’ But even by expressing these doubts Thomas gives Jesus the opportunity to utter one of his most profound and most memorable sayings, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
It will not be a surprise to anyone to realise that the first part of this Gospel passage is very frequently used for funerals. The text reads, ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too.’
These words have given great comfort to many Christians in their hour of grief when a loved one has passed away. These words of Jesus fill us with hope and the impression they give of heaven being made up of lofty chambers through which our deceased ones can stroll is a very comforting one.
It is very soothing to hear these words of Jesus telling us that he has prepared a place for each one of us in his heavenly kingdom. We feel that this place will be well suited to us, each with our own individual characteristics, and we realise that we will undoubtedly feel at home in God’s celestial city.
These few sentences can be regarded as one of the promises of God. And the promise is that there is a place in the Kingdom of God tailor made for each of us.
Reassuring as these words of Jesus are which tell us about life beyond the grave, we should realise that our faith is not simply about coping with death. Our faith is primarily about how to cope with life and all that it brings us. Here we need to focus on the words, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
Jesus is telling us that we need to place our whole selves in his hands right now. He tells us that he is the way. By this we don’t just mean that he lays down instructions and guidance on how to live in the world but that what we ought to be doing is imitating him in every aspect of his own life on earth. It is by living our lives like he lived his life that we will attain true fulfilment.
And he is the truth; by this he means not just that we ought not to tell lies but that through following his will we will come to a fuller understanding that all truth radiates outwards from him. While we understand that there is no falsehood or lie to be found in Jesus, these words mean more than that; Jesus means that he is the source and fountain of all that is right and good and true and authentic.
It is from him that all meaning comes and in him that all which exists has its origin. He is the focus of everything in the material world and everything in the world of ideas. All these things take him as their reference point and whatever meaning they contain comes directly from him.
And he is the life. He is the origin of everything that lives. Scientists have explored every facet of human and animal life; they are even able to interfere with DNA, which is the inner structure of every living thing, and yet they have absolutely no idea where life comes from or in what it consists. But we know the answer to this question: all life comes from God and without him there is nothing that can have life or meaning.
What we ought to realise is that without God there is no life worth living and that if we want to reach our full stature as human beings then we need to place our life in his hands and live it as if he were living it in us. This is the very best way for us to live our lives in an authentic way, to live it in complete accordance with the maker’s instructions.
With this rather brief reflection we recognise that in this short phrase of Jesus, which tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life, we find the deepest and most profound source of our being and the meaning behind everything that exists. Brief words maybe, but filled with enlightenment most certainly.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket