by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —the Third Sunday of Easter— reminding us of the need to walk together, and listen for the voice of Christ. Gnaw away!
Fifth Sunday of Easter: John 14:1-14
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe
also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were
not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if
I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to
myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to
the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know
where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the
way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through
me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know
him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you
still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you
say, `Show us the Father’? 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;
but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the
Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because
of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than
these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my
name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask
me for anything, I will do it.
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
This is the beginning of what scholars call “The Farewell Discourse” of
Jesus … in other words, this is Jesus’ long goodbye to his disciples.
Look at the events that have happened leading up to this speech.
First, three things that are signs of things to come:
*He has been ”anointed for burial” by Mary (12:1-8)
*He has had his “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem, the place where his death
will take place (12:12-19)
*Clear teachings about his death that are not received by the people
Then we have a major shift from the other four Gospels. At the meal with
his disciples the night before he dies, John doesn’t tell the traditional
story of the last supper. Instead Jesus’ last act with his disciples
isn’t the meal but him washing their feet. It is a demonstration of Jesus’
final summation to his disciples — the New Commandment, “that you love one
another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By
this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one
Knowing this build-up is critical to understanding this week’s Gospel. We
must remember that Jesus’ act of washing their feet and these words of the
New Commandment have just happened and it is in this context Jesus
conversation with Thomas and Philip must be heard.
A few things to chew on:
*The fullest statement of who Jesus is happens here: “I am the way, and the
truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you
know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have
seen him.” The first Christians understood this, calling themselves “People
of the Way.” But what is this “way” to God? Taken out of context, many have
used this as a way to claim that a verbal statement of faith in the person
of Jesus is the “only way to the Father.” But remember the context. The
“way” of Christ is the way of the New Commandment. That is what he has just
told and shown them. It is not about saying the name of Jesus. He has just
washed their feet and told them to love one another as he has loved them
and said “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do
the works that I do.” The way to the Father is the way of self-giving
service, not any “magic words” professing belief.
*One sure danger sign that we are straying from true faith (The Way) is
when we try to manipulate God for our own ends. Historically, many people
have seen Jesus’ words that “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that
the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for
anything, I will do it.” as more “magic words” that help them get what they
want. But remember the context — Jesus is talking about his disciples
giving themselves fully to one another in a life of service. In that
context, Jesus promises to give whatever they ask in his name … so that
God may be glorified in (Jesus). “The Way” is living a life of loving service
as a way of loving God and returning God to the place of centrality in our
lives. The promise is not that Jesus is some divine ATM … but that as we
lay down our very lives in loving service for one another, Jesus will join
us and God will be glorified.
Try and Write This:
Many of us don’t have a chance to formulate our last words. Death often
comes suddenly. But impending death has a way of focusing us on what is
most important. This week, spend some time each day with this Gospel
reading and ask yourself, “What would my final message to those I love be?”
Even take the time to write it out. What message — what important truth —
would you want to leave for those you love most?
Then when you have it. Make sure you take the time this week to share it
with at least one of those people. After all, we never know the day or the
Famous Last Words
This passage begins Jesus’ farewell discourse, his last words to his
disciples before his passion begins. We tend to think about the “it is
finished” on the cross as his last words, but this is really the last
message he had to his disciples — the things he really wanted to tell them
and wanted them to hear before he died.
Last words are powerful. They are our parting wisdom to the world. Think
about it. If you are with the people you care the most about in the world
and you know you are about to die … what would your last words to them
Whatever they would be, I’ll be they would be important. I’ll bet they
would be something that you’d want to stick with them for a long time.
History has given us some amazing last words.
*John Adams cried out from his deathbed “Thomas Jefferson — still
survives” as they died the same day, even at the end embracing the
contentious relationship out of which a nation was founded (and not knowing
that Jefferson had actually already died!)
*Martin Luther King, the night before he was killed, invoked the
image of Moses and holding out the hope of the people “getting to the
promised land” without him.
*Indira Gandhi, similarly prescient about her impending death, said the
night before she was killed, “I don’t mind if my life goes in the
service of the nation. If I die today every drop of my blood will
invigorate the nation.”
Some have used last words to send a political message. Ethel
Rosenberg’s last words before her execution were: “We are the first victims
of American fascism!” Others have used them to express final regret (John
Maynard Keynes famously quipped as he died, “I wish I’d drunk more
And so the last words of Jesus must be listened to with great care. He
could have said, “Get those Romans” or “Remember to pray always” or even,
with a prescient nod to W.C. Fields, “On the whole, I should have
stayed in Nazareth.”
But instead, Jesus said “love one another as I have loved you.” He washed
their feet and said “this is the Way.” Of all the things he could have
left us with, he left us with the call lovingly to serve — to lay down our
lives for one another.
And then his death spoke those words even louder than the words themselves
… as on the cross that is exactly what he did.
Amazing last words. Words to live by. Words to die by. Words wherein death
no longer is death, but life.
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every
Sunday - click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday
Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly
to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that
we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who
wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.