Fifth Sunday Of Easter (May 14, 2017)

Doesn’t it seem strange to hear part of Jesus’ last supper discourse repeated during late Eastertime? It makes sense only in its liturgical context: Jesus’ words at the time of his saying goodbye.

The disciples sound much like young children when parents tell them that they are going out. Where are you going? When are you coming back? Who is going to stay with us? Did you notice that the disciples – like young children - did not ask what is going to happen with Jesus; they ask only what is going to happen to them. Our generation is not the inventor of self-centeredness.

Thomas and Philip are the disciples who are the “straight-men” in this scene of “Johanine misunderstanding.” Johanine misunderstanding is the name for a device the author, john, uses to introduce and set up a “Jesus explanation.’

Jesus is not talking about where he is going as a place with an address; nor does he call it heaven. Jesus is talking about relationship, his and our relationship with the father. Through faith, the disciples will be able to recognize the relationship that already exists between Jesus and his father. Ultimately, faith, trust in God, will allow his followers to enter fully into that divine relationship: mutual indwelling. That is “the way, the life” in his truthfully proclaiming himself: “The way, the truth and the life.”

This same reality is what he calls elsewhere “the Kingdom of the Father.” The interpenetrating of the divine and our human consciousness is “the belonging” that we all desire in the depths of our hearts. This is the heart of John’s message. A bit lofty? Absolutely! John is depicted as an eagle in Christian art because of his lofty, theological soaring, not because he had feathers.

This surely transcends a description of heaven as “pie in the sky when you die.” This is not the notion of heaven for Muslim men - being with “72 dark-eyed virgins.” Yet, Jesus’ words give us only an inkling, because it is impossible to adequately describe what being with Jesus and the father actually is. As Paul in 1 Corinthians said: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what god has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Cor 2: 9,10]

Jesus assures his listeners that they who believe in him will do the works he does—and even greater works. The list is long: caring for the sick, forgiving, comforting those in pain, protecting the weak and vulnerable, embracing the poor, eating with sinners, defending the rights of the victimized, denouncing injustice . . . and more.

Our first reading from the acts of the apostles speaks to this and tells us of perhaps the first political moments in the new-born church where the spiritual needs of the church were not being matched by the material needs of some of the people of God. The work of the Twelve: preaching did not leave sufficient time for tending to the material needs; the office of deacons was created to care for needs of the Greek-speaking Christians. It was clearly a division of labor in the church. It had nothing to do with the establishing of a hierarchy. Deacons were co-workers.

The early church, open to the work of the spirit, was not slow to move to see that the material and spiritual needs were met. We pray that we the church of the 21st century will do no less. We now share in Jesus’ ministry, there is a saying in Africa: “The path is made by walking.” Each time we demonstrate our faith by living Jesus both spiritually and materially. We take another step in making our next venturesome step easier and more light-footed.