If you’ve heard the words in our Gospel lesson today, you’ve probably heard them at a funeral. John 14 is by far the most requested passage for Requiem Masses, for obvious reasons. Jesus speaks these words in a grave situation, surrounded by the specter of death, the death that awaits Him, and yet it is His disciples who He seeks to comfort.
“He is helping them get ready for his suffering and death. They are stunned. Once he asked if they were going to leave him, as many others had. Peter said, “Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Now the situation is reversed.
“So Jesus says a simple thing. “Do not let your hearts be troubled by this. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” The straightforward meaning of this directive is, you know how to trust; you do it with God. So use some of that kind of trust with me.
“Good enough, and yet there is a much deeper meaning. He is saying in effect, “I, Jesus, am in complete union with the Father. I am a member of the Trinity. I am a revelation of everything that the Father is. When you trust the Father you are trusting me in the very same act. It goes right over their heads, as too often it does ours. So Jesus, the compassionate, tries an illustration.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I ever have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself. A nifty image. A physical place, where we can all be together again. He will come back and get us. Who could misunderstand this? The apostles could, and did. Fear and grief blocked it. Jesus tries a different approach. “Where I am going you know the way.”
“Thomas explains the practical difficulty with such a statement (this is Doubting Thomas, whose heart couldn’t take the risk of trusting without facts): “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Thomas, typically, has missed the deeper meaning. Jesus had often referred to himself as “the way,” as in “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “You can know the way to the Father because I am The Way.” It is a beautiful depth of truth. But it does not work.”1
There’s an old saying among priests that the congregation listens to you at funerals but not at weddings, that you could say blah blah blah blah for 10 minutes in a wedding sermon and get away with it. That’s mostly true, but the whole truth is that many people at funerals listen to the preacher but don’t hear what’s said, or can’t hear what’s said. After the death of a loved one we are, as the prayer in the funeral rite says, “in the midst of things we cannot understand,” and so we are to trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.
But as we all know full well, most of us can’t make that leap right there, when our hearts are troubled. Perhaps that can give us some sympathy for the disciples, who’s minds and hearts were scattered, smothered, and covered.
Many if not most of us travel through life at least a little spiritually confused. We wonder where the Lord is, where He is directing us; we have trouble knowing hearing Him and so therefore trouble knowing Him.
The good news is that it was always thus. At the end of the teaching session we just heard a snippet of, Jesus might have been sitting with His head in His hands, wondering how He managed to surround Himself with such a bunch of dolts. Instead, Jesus loved them all the more; He gathered them again and again after His resurrection and entrusted them, the guys who couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag, into the world to change the world.
We are here at this time and in this place because Jesus sent that group, people just like you and me, to spread the Gospel. So the next time you’re in the midst of things you cannot understand, feeling scattered, smothered, and covered, remember that the Lord loves you all the more, and might be readying you to change the world.
1Fr. John Foley, SJ: http://liturgy.slu.edu/5EasterA051417/reflections_foley.html