FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Readings: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
In today’s Gospel we hear the grumbling of the apostles as they try to make sense of their recent and difficult experiences. Jesus had already washed their feet and had told them that one of them will betray him. We also hear of the assurance of Jesus: in my father’s house there are many dwelling places and I will go and prepare a room for you. He also tells them that they know the place where he is going. After being in close association with Jesus they certainly would be aware of his destination. But they were not clear as yet and were not fully prepared to understand and accept his word. They were indeed frightened of their future. Yet we admire the patience of Jesus as once again he teaches his disciples. Two things are communicated to us: a close identification of Jesus with God the Father and secondly, our identification with Jesus and his mission.
Today’s First Reading gives us an account of the days when the royal priesthood was being established. During this early phase of the founding of the Church, the widows of the Hellenists were being neglected in the daily distribution of the food. This concern was brought to the attention of the twelve apostles. The apostles expressed that it was not right for them to neglect the prayers and preaching in order to ensure everyone has sufficient food. To resolve the problem, it was commanded that seven men of good standing be chosen to continue the mission. The second reading of today tells us that we are chosen by God even though rejected by others to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in Jesus Christ. Peter tells the Christians they are a chosen race. A holy nation, a people set apart. We now spend a little time on the Gospel. The context of the Gospel is Jesus’ long discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper. They are aware that Jesus is about to leave them. There is a heavy air of gloom and anxiety as the enemies of Jesus close in around him.
Jesus invites them to “Trust in God still, and trust in me” and this is a call to total faith in the Father and in Jesus. It is a single act of trust for to have faith in the one is to have equal faith in the other. “You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.” But the disciples cannot be too happy to hear that Jesus is about to leave them. It is no wonder that their hearts are “troubled”. This takes place in spite of the promise that Jesus is going away to “prepare a place” for them. He promises them that where he is they may be too”. They should have no trouble understanding and accepting this.
Thomas, the man with simple yet very literal mind, protests: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” However, we can be grateful to Thomas for drawing out of Jesus one of the great sayings of Jesus: “I AM the Way — I AM Truth and Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” They are to be understood totally in terms of mutual relationships, the mutual relationships between Jesus, the Father and his followers. The “Way” of Jesus, through his coming suffering and death, will end in the new and abundant life he wants for all his followers. It is to be a person who is totally identified with the vision and the values of Jesus. To be such a person is to be a person of Truth and Life.
Truth is here understood not in a purely intellectual sense. Truth here is that complete integrity and harmony which Jesus himself revealed not only in what he said but in the total manifestation of his life and person. Truth for Jesus was not just something he knew or accepted or believed in; truth for Jesus was what he was in his whole person: thoughts, feelings, actions, relationships. He gives his life for us life in its totality. He is one who came to give life to the world and he will give it till all is accomplished. God the Father is, of course, also Truth and Life. But we go to God the Father through Jesus and we call Jesus the “Way” because he is the visible manifestation in human form of all that his Father is.
Now it is Philip’s turn to interject. “Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.” It was the hope of every good Jew some day to see God face to face. Jesus responds “Have I been with you all this time, Philip and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father.” He tells them that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. When he speaks, certainly it is God who speaks. When he heals, certainly God heals. When Jesus died on the Cross, God also died? Surely not. God cannot die. The death of Jesus in his humanity was a sublime witness of the love and compassion of the Ever Living God.
Jesus, in his humanity, is the reflection of the infinite Truth, Goodness and Beauty of God. When we see Jesus, we see God but… there is much that we do not see. And so we speak of Jesus as the Way. We go through him to find the total reality of God. Today, perhaps, our problem is not so much recognising God in Jesus. In fact, as mentioned, we can go too far in doing so. Our problem is not being able to recognise God in the world and people around us. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus says that there are many “rooms”, many dwelling places in his Father’s house. Let us reflect on this blessing of being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and god’s own people. In thanksgiving, let us proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light.
Anecdote: Jeremy was born with a twisted body and a slow mind. At the age of 12 he was still in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. His teacher, Doris Miller, often became exasperated with him for Jeremy just irritated his teacher. One day she called his parents and asked them that they could take the child. They too were helpless. As she pondered the situation and prayed Lord, please help me to be more patient with Jeremy. One day, he limped to her desk, dragging his bad leg behind him.”I love you, Miss Miller,” he exclaimed. The other students snickered, and Doris’ face turned red. But he just looked.
As Easter approached, Doris told them the story of Jesus, and then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg and told them to bring a symbol of new life. All the children responded enthusiastically-all except for Jeremy. He listened intently; his eyes never left her face. He did not even make his usual noises. The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in the large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. Then it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Doris found a flower. “Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life,” she said. The next egg contained a plastic butterfly. Yes, that’s new life, too from caterpillar to butterfly. Next, Doris found a rock with moss on it which too, showed life. Then Doris opened the fourth egg. She gasped. The egg was empty. Surely it must be Jeremy’s she thought, and he did not understand. She quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly, Jeremy spoke up. “Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” Doris replied, “But Jeremy, your egg is empty.” He looked into her eyes and said softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too.” Doris asked him, “Do you know why the tomb was empty?” “Oh, yes,” Jeremy said, “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then His Father raised Him up.” Miller knew all was different. She just cried. She now understood the child on the verge of death.
Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who paid their respects at the mortuary were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket, all of them empty.