I don’t think I would have done as well as the apostles in recognizing who Jesus was. From the vantage point of 20 centuries, they can seem somewhat dim but given their justified expectations, they were quite perceptive. They challenge us today.
As our Bible study group is discovering the best way to understand what the Apostles and their Jewish contemporaries felt can be found in the Psalms. They are not only beautiful poetry but heartfelt expressions of faith, doubt and everything in between with often great sophistication.
We read in the 37th Psalm “For the evildoers will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land” and in Psalm 55: “But you, O God, will bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in you”. These are beautiful sentiments but are they true? Even the Psalm for today’s mass “But the LORD’S eyes are upon the reverent, upon those who hope for his gracious help, delivering them from death, keeping them alive in times of famine” (Ps 33:18–19) does not seem quite right. Would devout Christians in Sudan or the families of Jordan Neely or the victims of yesterday’s shootings in Texas agree with this? The Jews saw as well as we do that in this world the unjust often succeed and the upright fail. Over time Jews who became the Pharisees understood that their reward must be in an afterlife. Indeed, the idea of an afterlife was developed to prove that God kept his promises. They thought he would raise, that is resurrect, all people and separate the good from the bad and then create an earthly kingdom for the Good. By the time of Jesus, this was considered the role of the Messiah.
The Psalms are songs, and the apostles would have sung them and every time they did, they expressed their yearning for the Messiah to lead them. They accepted Jesus as the Messiah. This was extraordinary, he had no army and was neither a prince nor a priest in any way they would have understood yet they followed him expecting him to begin the kingdom for and with them. Yet now he is telling them that this will not occur immediately nor in a way they can understand and appreciate.
This passage today is from the Last Supper. He told them that he was to be betrayed and that he would be with them only a little while longer. Our passage today begins with “let not your heart be troubled” Troubled is used for closeness to and fear of death.
So, they are going to be betrayed, Jesus is talking about death and that he will be with them only a bit longer. Phillip and Thomas seek to find out more and discover that his destination is not another city but another dimension. “House” is not a place but a relationship. Yesterday, a member of the House of Windsor was crowned the monarch of Great Britain and the British people will have a new relationship with him. Our relationship with the “House” of God will be through the new life Jesus brings. They know that it concerns the Father but remember only Jesus referred to God as Father in this intimate sense. This was not a common Jewish belief. Jesus will not give them a roadmap, handbook, or spiritual technique to aid them only the admonition that he alone is the way to this new relationship which will not be the one they expected. They did not sign up for this.
Yet they continued with him. They did not follow perfectly but they still followed.
Then the passage gets truly odd. They are told to look at the works that Jesus did. They were obviously impressed and encouraged because they attracted them to him. It may seem that all Jesus is telling them is to remember them during the difficult times to come but there is more, he tells them that they will do the works that he did and “greater ones than these”.
How is this possible” Remember that the Gospel of St John was written almost 100 years after these events. The readers of the gospel have seen persecutions from outside and divisions from within, they have also experienced the death of the apostles themselves, yet they have grown. They have done the works of Jesus and indeed greater ones than these. They have seen that it is because Jesus has gone to the Father and established this new relationship with him.
They also knew that it was because of their love for each other. Earlier in this speech Jesus told them “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another”. (Jn 13:34) Jesus’ love was complete self-giving and he continues “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35).
This love is the work of the Father which Jesus has done and continues in the Church.
I asked the parish leadership to prepare a briefing book for Fr Gibino. This will give him a good idea of where we are and where we want to be. St Charles responded very creatively to the covid crisis by utilizing the skills of our lay people and became institutionally more robust. But we must remember that this is the means not the end. It is important, indeed necessary but our end must be loving and serving others. This is the work of God and the way we show that we are not a NGO with great art and music but the body of Christ, his very presence in the world. St John today is asking us a question which is both disturbing and joyful: “are we willing to show the love which will do works greater than Jesus?”