CYCLE A | EASTER | WEEK 5
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
This Sunday’s Gospel passage is set at the Last Supper, as Jesus prepares for his departure. His disciples are afraid to face the world on their own. We too have our own anxieties as we gather at the Lord’s Table (at Mass). The good things of life are so fragile and so short-lived: health, security, marriage and family, friendships, peace of mind. Jesus speaks to them with a heavy heart but with great love: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” To hear these words is the liberating good news that we can live and work in a fragile and violent world and not be overcome.
Jesus himself experienced so much that trouble the human heart: misunderstanding and rejection, betrayal and abandonment, torture and dying. Yet, in the deepest centre of his heart, he was still able to know peace because he united his will in trust with the Father. With liberating faith in the Risen Lord, we too can know the peace and joy which is beyond all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and which nothing in the world can take from us even in the troubling circumstances of our lives.
Jesus further re-assures them that he is going away to prepare a place for them. To be assured that they understand and accept this promise since they have been with him for a while he asks: “You know the way to the place where I am going.” The ever curious Thomas expressed their collective ignorance: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is clearly thinking geography while Jesus was talking of a different subject.
Yet, thanks to Thomas, in responding, Jesus made the most audacious claim of our faith: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. Note that he did not just say that he shows the way but that he is the Way. Jesus being the Way is decisive for how to cope with life. It doesn’t just mean that he lays down instructions and guidance on how we are to live but that we are to live in his footsteps, by his vision and values. It is in doing so that we live the fullness of life.
Secondly, Jesus says “I am the Truth” not that he teaches the truth. Later, before Pilate, he would state that those on the side of the truth listen to his voice. Pilate asks: “What is truth?” Like Pilate, many question the truth. Today, truth is as defined by each individual – moral relativism does not acknowledge any objective truth. Emeritus Pope Benedict insightfully recognized this ‘dictatorship of relativism’. Today, we hear things like, “Abortion is wrong and is a sin, for me” as though it could be right for others.
Moral truth is not a matter of personal opinion. It is the acceptance of Jesus and the truth of the Gospel as the objective truth. People like quoting Jesus where he says “… and you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). But they forget that there is a condition preceding the quote “You will become my disciples …” When we make truth subjective or as defined by each individual, we forestall the possibility of conversion or redemption. But when we accept these objective truths, we are challenged to conversion; turning away from the false god of self and allowing Jesus to transform us in his truth.
Thirdly, Jesus says “I am the life” not just that he has the message that leads to life. Scientists have explored every facet of human and animal life; they are even able to interfere with DNA, the inner structure of every living thing, and yet they have absolutely no idea where life comes from or in what it consists. But we know the answer: all life comes from God and without him there is nothing that can have life or meaning. If this is so, to live in complete accordance with the maker’s instructions is to live authentically.
Most pointedly, Jesus says: “To have seen me is to have seen the Father”. Perhaps, our problem is not so much about recognising God in Jesus as not being able to recognise God in the world and people around us. Yet, a more puzzling paradox is his suggestion that whoever believes in him will do greater work than he. How can we do greater work than someone who claims to be God? Well, while we may not do greater than God in terms of spectacular signs, the mission started by Jesus has been taken to far greater heights.
Many more are being reached and healed through church agencies than Jesus did. While Jesus’ ministry was localised in Palestine, missionaries in his name have transversed the globe. While he addressed crowds in their hundreds and thousands, religious leaders such as the Pope and Billy Graham, when hooked up to satellites, can simultaneously reach literally billions of people. There are now only very few places where Jesus’ message has not been heard. While Jesus spent whole night in prayers, contemplative monks over the centuries spent years in prayer.
Ironically, it was only by his leaving us that the energy and life he brought was released, setting in motion a process by which his message, his Way of Truth and Life, could reach every corner of the world. We, his followers are called to lead the people we encounter along the Way of Jesus – the Way of Truth and Life. Many still hunger and thirst, and we have been called to continue to bring the Bread of Life to them. The Gospel still needs to be preached with greater enthusiasm, relevance and integrity. By working together, Jesus can continue to do much more through us than he did himself.