This morning is one of those thick Sundays in the gospel of John. Like last week, Jesus is speaking with the disciples and his language seems convoluted. Unlike the straight talking Jesus in Mark’s gospel, Jesus often speaks this way in the gospel of John; in many sentences that are layered with imagery. It is no wonder that everyone around him is struggling to understand. It can be difficult to tease apart the meaning of the text, let alone a word for us today.
The setting is that last Passover dinner. Jesus has gathered the disciples and washed their feet. He has shared a meal with them, and Judas has left the group to do “what he is going to do.” After Judas departs, Jesus begins to speak of his own eminent departure in what has come to be known as the final discourse in the Gospel of John.
“Little children, I am with you only a little longer . . . where I am going you cannot come.” Everyone is naturally disturbed at this news and struggles to understand. Peter asks the question, “Lord, where are you going . . . why can I not follow you now?”
It is from this point that Jesus offers the portion of the discourse that we are examining today. He offers a word of encouragement to his followers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He goes on to make promises; promises about the presence of God. “I go to prepare a place for you.” The implication is that there is always a place for the disciples to be with their Lord.
The desire to follow is strong, and Thomas again begins to question. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” In one of the most famous lines of the gospel, Jesus implies that the only way forward lies with him. “I am the way, the truth, the life.” It is no wonder that the disciples are mystified. Can you imagine asking someone for directions and having them simply reply, “I am the directions”?
Phillip wishes things were easier, clearer. “Lord show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Give us a clear answer, give us something to hold on to, and we will be OK. Jesus replies that the disciples have seen the Father, because they have seen Jesus himself. He implies that he is the manifestation of God on Earth, and so he has shown them all that they need to see. He then tells them that they too, can do the works of God, if they ask in the name of Jesus. From here the speech continues for several chapters as Jesus offers his prolonged goodbyes and lessons to his followers and friends.
I have to admit that sometimes I love the gospel of John and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I am put off by the high Christology in John’s gospel. What I mean by that is that Jesus is so much like God, so other-worldly, so holy, that he can be hard to relate to. He is also very hard to understand. The way that John’s Jesus talks is so complex and thick that I always end up feeling like I have been spun around in a circle too many times and I struggle to find my bearings.
That leads me to what I love about John’s gospel, and that is the role of the disciples. That is the place where I can easily find myself. They are so earnest, they are trying so hard, and yet they are so confused. “Lord, where are you going?” “Lord, why can I not follow you now?” “Lord, how can we know the way?” “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” These are all statements that I can totally relate to in my own searching life of faith.
Of course, Jesus offers me the same answers he offered his friends that night. “Lord, where are you going?” “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Jesus has gone ahead to a place I cannot reach now, but a place I will reach in the future.
In what has become a very popular text for funerals, Jesus offers this comfort: “I go to prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” As readers, we know the end of the gospel. We know that Jesus goes on into the place death. As a believer I know that I cannot follow Jesus there now, but I will follow him there later. And when I am there, there will be a place for me and a place for others. Not mansions in the sky, where we are all living separate lives like we do here on Earth. No, the more proper translation is room. Where Jesus is going, where I am going, is a place where there is room. Not even a room in a house, but room meaning space; room for everybody.
“Lord, how can we know the way?” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” When we ask what the path is, Jesus tells us that he is the path. If we look to Jesus, if we study the life he lived, if we read his words and know his stories, then we will know the way. Follow the path that Jesus sets before you. Then you will know the way; then you will have life.
“Lord, show us the Father.” Like Philip, we are a people who long to see God. If only things were clearer on the path that Jesus offers. Philip asks for a sign, for proof in the existence of the divine, for certainty that he is on the right path. “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied.” I want to see God, not just read about it. I want to know God, not just take things on faith. “Lord, show us more.”
Jesus replies that he has shown them enough. They have seen enough. And so, by comparison, have we. Jesus tells the disciples that the words he speaks are from God. That to have seen him, to have seen Jesus; is to have seen God. To know him, to follow him, to believe in him; is to know, follow, and believe in God. It is enough. It is all that we need.
In the final section for today, Jesus looks to the future. “Those who believe in me, can do my works . . . Those who pray in my name, will have their prayers answered.” The disciples will become those people. And so will we. We have the opportunity each day to do the work of Christ in our world. Think of all the things that believers have done in the name of Jesus since his physical life on earth ended. When we add all of those acts of faith up in our minds, those people who have changed the world one person at a time, Jesus’ words ring true; “They will do greater works than these.”
When I was thinking about all these questions and answers this week, I kept coming back to one statement. “If you know me, you will know my Father.” The point that Jesus is making in this portion of the discourse, and the point that the writer of the Gospel of John is making throughout the gospel as a whole, is really quite simple. To know Jesus is to know God. This has become the heart of the Christian tradition. Jesus is the one who shows us who God is.
I was challenged this week to ask this question in turn of myself. “To see me is to see . . . what?” “To know Heather, is to know . . . what?” In my life of faith, I am motivated by a desire to show Jesus to the world. Not the definitive Jesus, not all there is to know, not a manifestation that equals Christ’s manifestation of the Lord. But a simple glimmer of Jesus, a shadow of Jesus, a little spark of Jesus, in the way that I live. If I am following the way, the truth, the life; shouldn’t that show in my own life?
Part of my daily prayer and meditation time includes a pondering of this statement by the great spiritual writer Thomas Keating. He says “We all have the innate capacity to manifest God, because we already are that image by virtue of being created.” Listen again, “We all have the innate capacity to manifest God, because we already are that image by virtue of being created.” I love this statement, for we know that we are made in the image of God, so therefore it logically follows that we ought to be able to project that image to the world. So every day I ask myself, what have I done to manifest God, to follow the way of Jesus Christ, in my world today?
The gospel of John is full of questions, so too are our own individual lives of faith. “Lord, where are you going?” “Lord, how can we know the way?” “Lord, show us the Father.” In the gospel of John Jesus offers answers to the disciples and to us. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “Those who know me, know the Father.” “Believe in me, and do the works I do.” “Ask in my name, and I will do it.”
May God continue to be with us as we ask questions on this journey of faith. And may we continue to follow the way that Jesus sets before us, trying to manifest the image of God, the image in which we were created, in our broken world today. Amen.