Thought for the day
Jesus is already now today our way, our truth and our life. As the Gospel says, to have eternal life is to believe in him whom God has sent (Jn 5:24; 17:3). This is a reality for us now and it guides our life, in matters great and small. At the core of this reality is trust, that is, the capacity to entrust all that we have and are to the living God and to his Son, raised from the dead. It is not an accident that the verb “to believe” occurs no fewer than ninety-eight times in the Fourth Gospel.
You gave us Jesus, the Word made flesh as Mediator, and he has spoken your words to us and called us to follow him. He is the way that leads us to you, the truth that sets us free, the life that fills us with gladness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
John 14:1 “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. 3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. 4 And you know the way where I am going.”
John 14:5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”
John 14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves. 12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father.
This familiar passage (often read at funerals) opens the final speech of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, running from chapter 14 through 17. Our passage today picks up many of the themes of the entire speech, while giving some a certain prominence. As always in the Fourth Gospel, we are dealing with meditations from the end of the first century, not the actual words of the historical Jesus. This doesn’t make them less true or reliable.
Kind of writing
As noted above, John 14-17 belongs to a recognisable literary genre, that of Farewell Discourse. This kind of writing can be identified by its location and by its themes. In terms of location, a Farewell Discourse takes place before the death of the “hero” or chief protagonist in a story. A Farewell Discourse deals with departure, final arrangements, the importance of past relationships, the future shape of relationships, the duties of those left behind, future problems and the resources for living, unity of the group. In particular, the continued gift of life (in Christ) is guaranteed by the future gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete or Advocate.
Old Testament background
(i) The form—Farewell Discourse—resembles OT models. Genesis 49 is an example (see below), as are Tobit 14 and 1 Macc 2:49-68. The whole book of Deuteronomy is the Farewell Discourse of Moses.
(ii) The Torah or Old Testament Law is really a way of life: “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.” (Psalms 119:1).
(iii) God is “true” in a relational way in the Bible. This is expressed by the word emeth, which means faithfulness to a relationship: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him.” (Deut 7:9-10)
(iv) Choosing life is an OT theme: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deut 30:19-20).
New Testament foreground
(i) In the New Testament, there is a notable Farewell Discourse in Acts 20:17-38. Luke uses a Farewell Discourse in Lk 22. 2 Peter is also a testament, or farewell speech and shows the following features: ethical admonitions and revelations of the future (cf. Acts 20:17-34; 2 Timothy; also Acts of Peter, Acts of John, Acts of Thomas). 2 Pet. 1:3-11 is a homily which follows a pattern found, e.g., in the farewell speeches of Ezra (2 Esdr. 14:28-36). 2 Pet. 1:12-15 is replete with language typical of farewell addresses, and specifically mentions Peter’s knowledge of his approaching death. 2 Pet. 2:1-3a; 3:1-4 predict the arrival of false teachers.
(ii) It would be good to read John 14:1-12 in the light of the closing section of the Farewell Discourse, chapter 17, where the themes of life, faith, work, word and communion are taken up again, this time echoing the language of the Lord’s Prayer. The brief commentary makes explicit some of the links with the Gospel text elsewhere.
To get a sense of role of a Farewell Discourse, it would be useful to read Acts 20:25–35.
Verse 1 The preceding conversation (13:36-38) is very disturbing and the present excerpt is a kind of response or consolation in the light of that. V. 1a is a version of “Do not be afraid”, the experience of consolation in the encounter with God (Jn 6:20; 12:15—see also the first words of the risen Lord). V. 1b resumes many passages in this Gospel, for example: “Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” (John 6:29)
Verse 2 This well-known verse echoes another: “The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.” (John 8:35)
Verse 3 Cf. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour. (John 12:26) Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”” (John 13:36). In this Gospel, the present reality of salvation is so strong that future hope and longing seem less significant; however, this verse corrects this perceived “lack”.
Verse 4 This verse continues the theme of misunderstanding, even among the closest followers of Jesus. This observation triggers the next conversation.
Verse 5 Thomas has a higher profile in this Gospel (John 11:16; 14:5; 20:24, 26-28; 21:2) than in the other Gospels. He does make seemingly uncomprehending remarks, but in itself, the question at this point seems quite reasonable. It also provides the vocabulary of the “way”, so important for this Gospel.
Verse 6 As often noted, the I am sentences of the Fourth Gospel echo the name of God in Ex 3:14, I am who I am. Calling a person the way, the truth and the life strikingly reflects the teaching of this Gospel that the Good News is the person of Jesus. Way: John 1:23; 14:4-6. Truth: John 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 8:32, 40, 44-46; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 17:17, 19; 18:37-38. Life: John 1:4; 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 26, 29, 39-40; 6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47-48, 51, 53-54, 63, 68; 8:12; 10:10, 28; 11:25; 12:25, 50; 14:6; 17:2-3; 20:31.
Verse 7 This verse captures a core teaching of the Fourth Gospel that to know who God really is is to know the Son and that to know the who is the Son really is is to know the Father. A clear expression of this is found in 1 Jn 5:1 (the NRSV version fails here): “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1 ESV); “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and whoever loves the father loves the son.” (1John 5:1 NJB). The ESV is very close to the Greek; the NJB is an accurate rendering of the content. V. 7b captures the sense that salvation is now, in the present moment.
Verse 8 Philip has an unusual importance in this Gospel (John 1:43-46, 48; 6:5, 7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9). This may be because in Asia Minor (western Turkey), where this Gospel most likely was finished, there were traditions about Philip. The desire to see the Father, even in the context of misunderstanding, serves the purpose of the Gospel.
Verse 9 The intimacy of the Father and the Son is a theme not only of chapters 14-17 but of this whole Gospel as such. Cf. 1:18; 6:46; 8:19; 12:44-45.
Verse 10 “The one who sent me” is practically a name or title for God in this Gospel, expressing the communion of the Father and the Son. It is not used here explicitly but lies behind the expressions used.
Verse 11 The works of Jesus and the Father in this Gospel symbolise the great “work” of the lifting up and glorification in the hour of the cross/resurrection (John 3:19-21; 4:34; 5:20, 36; 6:28-29; 7:3, 7, 21; 8:39, 41; 9:3-4; 10:25, 32-33, 37-38; 14:10-12; 15:24; 17:4).
Verse 12 Doing “greater works” than Jesus himself is a bit of a surprise. It needs to be read in the light of the chronology of this Gospel. The death/lifting up of the Messiah is a new creation, taken in a very strong sense. There is, therefore, a “before” and an “after”. We see this again in the hyperbole regarding the gift of the Spirit: “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39). The last line is obviously not true at a literal level and at the same time astonishingly true. The believer can live in the light of the resurrection in a way way not possible before Easter took place. Jesus’ “going to the Father” is the context of the Farewell Discourse.
Pointers for prayer
1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.” Trust in another person can help us in difficult times.
2. Remember and give thanks for the people you were able to trust in difficult moments. Remember also when your faith in God helped you through anxious moments.
3. Thomas struggled with the desire, which is in all of us, to know exactly the destination before we set out. Jesus invites us to make an act of faith and to take one step at a time. Can you recall times when it helped you to take that trusting attitude to life?
Jesus proposed himself to Thomas as the way, the truth and the life. In what ways has Jesus been the way, the truth and the life for you on your faith journey?
4. Philip wanted Jesus to give him a glimpse of God and got the surprising answer “whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. Jesus put a human face on the love of God. Who are the people whose love has helped you to believe in the love of God? To whom have you given an occasional glimpse of the divine?
We have beheld your glory, O God in the face of Christ Jesus, your Son. Enliven our faith that through Christ we may put our trust in you. Deepen our faith that in Christ we may serve you.
Complete our faith that one day we may live with you in that place which Christ prepares for us, where he lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.