Sunday, May 10, 2020
5th Sunday of Easter
Liturgical Color: White
First reading: Acts 6:1–7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:1–2, 4–5, 18–19
Second reading: 1 Peter 2:4–9
Gospel: John 14:1–12
This week’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites, perhaps because it is so loaded with deep spiritual doctrine. But precisely because it is so loaded and “pregnant” with meaning, this makes it difficult to say anything adequate about it.
After reviewing several resources, I have decided to concentrate on two main points among the many that call out to me. The first is this: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” The second is: “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.”
Jesus is the way to the Father. Thomas, speaking what is in the befuddled minds of all the apostles, asks for an explanation: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus’ initial answer is that he himself is the Way, stipulating that no one comes to the Father except through him.
Why is this? Because it is only through Jesus, God incarnate, that mankind has access to the Father and thus can be saved (Acts 4:12). We humans naively tend to think that a simple prayer is sufficient to establish rapport with God, and in one sense it is. But how do we presume that this alone will bring forgiveness of our sins or communion with the divine Being? How do we know what God requires in return for such communion or forgiveness? So it is that his Son must bear the cross that is too frightful for us to approach. In fact, the Son himself becomes the Way we must take; he is the “narrow gate” of Matthew 7:13–14 and Luke 13:24.
Jesus is the Truth that the Father speaks in and through his Son. Yes, God is the ultimate Truth, the origin of created truth. But so long as the Truth remains in the Father, as it were in seed form, it cannot be sown into his creation to germinate, mature and bear fruit. Jesus is the palpable means God uses to accomplish this diffusion, to carry his Truth to all creation, and especially to his ultimate creation, mankind. How does this come about? Jesus is the image and likeness of the Father. Put another way, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him.
Jesus’ act of “going to the Father” is the manifestation of his union with the Father. It is no longer merely a divine union, but through the incarnation, it is a human union as well. So this union occurs on two levels, accomplishing the Father’s will through both of them.
Jesus is the divine life within us. This assertion, like the others, is literally true, but in a spiritual sense. It comes about when we partake of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the Lord’s own Body and Blood, in faith.
Biblical texts often present God’s heavenly dwelling as a temple (e.g., Psalm 11:4; Revelation 7:15). The earthly sanctuary, a replica of the heavenly one (Exodus 25:8–9), was regarded as God’s dwelling place among his people. Jesus referred to the Jerusalem temple as “my Father’s house” and spoke of its destruction, three days after which a new temple would be built (John 2:16, 19). John reveals that this new temple was to be Jesus’ own resurrected body (2:21). The glorified humanity of Jesus is the point where all humanity comes to dwell with the Father. Heaven, “the Father’s house,” is not so much a place as the divine communion of life and love in which we share through the glorified humanity of Jesus. As we shall see, the disciples’ sharing in this heavenly communion with the Father through Jesus begins in this life through faith and the indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 23). (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)
There is a second meaning to this “way, truth, life” statement that we must take into consideration. The Church, being the mystical Body of Christ, provides all believers with these precise means to total communion with God through Jesus Christ. The Church nourishes us, providing our Lord’s graces through the Sacraments, making it the Way in her moral code, the Truth in her doctrine, and the Life in the Eucharist.
But still the apostles do not comprehend. Philip pursues more directly the same point as Thomas: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus seems exasperated as he explains yet again: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” As God the Son incarnate, what he does externally, the entire Trinity does together, for all three Persons are in perfect union with one another.
Jesus then suggests another approach. If his disciples do not understand the internal functions of the Holy Trinity, at least they ought to be able to follow the unity of the divine will in God’s work externally among men: his manifest “works” in the world.
All manifestations of God, or “theophanies,” have been through some medium; they are only a reflexion of God’s greatness. The highest expression which we have of God our Father is in Christ Jesus, the Son of God sent among men. “He did this by the total fact of his presence and self-manifestation — by words and works, signs and miracles, but above all by his death and glorious resurrection from the dead, and finally by sending the Spirit of truth. He revealed that God was with us, to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to eternal life” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 4). (Navarre Bible Commentary)
At the end of this week’s passage, Jesus points out that his followers, those who believe in him, ought to understand that what the Lord inspires them to do is, in fact, Christ working through them.
Before leaving this world, the Lord promises his Apostles to make them sharers in his power so that God’s salvation may be manifested through them. These “works” are the miracles they will work in the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 3:1–10; 5:15–16; etc), and especially the conversion of people to the Christian faith and their sanctification by preaching and the ministry of the sacraments. They can be considered greater works than Jesus’ own insofar as, by the Apostles’ ministry, the Gospel was not only preached in Palestine but was spread to the ends of the earth; but this extraordinary power of apostolic preaching proceeds from Christ, who has ascended to the Father: after undergoing the humiliation of the cross Jesus has been glorified and from heaven he manifests his power by acting through his Apostles. (Navarre Bible Commentary)
But this apostolic power extends far beyond ancient times in a far-away land. Through the medium of the Church, from which flows the power of God because it is Christ’s own Body, it is active in our own time and place. How? We believers are the hands through which God touches the world with grace. This is why Jesus tells us that “whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.”
No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s one, universal mediation… is the way established by God himself.…
The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. But it is clear that today, as in the past, many people do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the gospel revelation or enter the Church. The social and cultural conditions in which they live do not permit this, and frequently they have been brought up in other religious traditions. For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his Sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit.…
The Church offers mankind the Gospel, that prophetic message which responds to the needs and aspirations of the human heart and always remains “Good News.” The Church cannot fail to proclaim that Jesus came to reveal the face of God and to merit salvation for all humanity by his cross and resurrection. (Pope St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio (On the Permanent Validity of the Church’s Missionary Mandate) 5, 10, 11, respectively.) (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)