5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – 2020
“Do not let your hearts be troubled”
Acts 6:1-7; 1Pt 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
The Gospel text we are presented with today is the opening passage of what we call the Farewell Discourse in the Gospel of John. This long discourse extends over four chapters. Jesus is coming to the end of his earthly mission. The reason for which he came into the world is about to fulfilled and accomplished. He is about to return to his Father, in heaven, the place from whence he came. He knows how worried the apostles would be in his absence. He tells them “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Life, for them, was going to be very hard without Jesus—arrests, accusations, persecution, executions, etc., would be their lot as they try to preach the gospel. Jesus invites them, therefore, to believe in God and to believe in him. That was the solution to their worries. Belief in God brings consolation to his followers.
Jesus, understanding their mind-set, assures them also: “In my father’s house, there are many rooms”. By his father’s house, he meant heaven. Jesus knows how they would be rejected from one city or town. Yet they could be rejected on earth, but they were assured of a place in heaven. Jesus talks to his disciples about HEAVEN. He reminds us of the paroussia (the second coming), when he will come again to take us along with him. Many are our hardships, but we live with hope in the beautiful heavenly home.
- WHAT IS HEAVEN?
Sometimes, we talk too little about HEAVEN. We rarely give much thought to what it really is. Inspired by Jesus’ teaching today, let us look at what heaven is.
- a) HEAVEN is a place of residence in the Father’s House
It is the best place we can ever imagine. It is a magnificent place that would make the richest and well-furnished homes of our imagination seem like shanty shacks. It is where the Father is. It is a magnificent place where we live with those whom we love. It is not just a house; it is a home. Home is where our loved ones are. The great attraction in heaven will not be its pearly gates, its golden streets, nor its choir of angels, but it will be Christ. Heaven would be no ‘heaven’ if Christ were not there.
- b) HEAVEN is a prepared place for people who are prepared
Jesus tells us that a place will be prepared for us. Our place in heaven will be ready when we arrive. The Lord “knows those who are his.” It is important to note at this point that not everyone is going to be in Heaven. Heaven is a prepared place for PREPARED PEOPLE. It is a common belief that everyone goes to Heaven after death. Not so! The only people who go to Heaven when they die are those who die believing in, and trusting in, Christ as the lone source of their salvation.
- c) HEAVEN is the place of peace and fulfillment
St. Paul tells us, in 2 Cor. 5:1-3, that in this life we are uneasy. We are looking for something but we do not know what it is. St. Paul says we “groan”. In order to quiet the groaning, we try all kinds of different things:
- We surround ourselves with material belongings in the hope of keeping ourselves entertained and distracted.
- We seek “spiritual highs” from any source around
- We seek to satisfy the groan through numerous “intimate” relationships
- We become more active to eliminate quiet times in our lives
But the groan remains. That sense of needing something more can be avoided for a while but not forever. True, we will have our moments of joy. We catch glimpses of light. We know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead in Heaven.
- d) Heaven is where our longing stops
It is where we find what we have been searching for all our lives. It is a place more spectacular than our imagination can envision. St. John, tells us in the book of Revelation: Rev. 21:1-5. Anything we can imagine is inadequate. No one has come close to imagining what heaven is. Think of all the songs about heaven! All the artists’ portrayals, all the sermons preached, poems written, and chapters drafted fall far short in describing the heavenly reality.
- e) HEAVEN is a place that will never fade in splendour
The first time a person who has been raised in a remote village comes into a big city with all its electricity and high-rise buildings, it is an awesome experience. Amidst the tall buildings, he/she has a sense of being very small. But as time rolls on, that splendour becomes commonplace. The glory diminishes. Such is not true of Heaven. St. Peter writes: “God, in his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1Peter 1:3,4).
Practically, what this means is that Heaven will be just as exciting thousands of years into our stay as it was the moment of our arrival. There will always be a new fascination for God’s glory, always a new appreciation of God’s beauty, a never-ending fascination with God’s eternal home. We will never get “bored” in Heaven! This is the heaven that Jesus promises and offers to all his followers.
- I AM THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE
How does one go to this heaven? In John 14:6, after telling his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in heaven, and then come back take them so they could be where he is, Jesus tells them that they know the way to the place where he is going. Thomas interrupts and says, “Excuse me, but I don’t think we do know the way!” Jesus responds to Thomas with a bold declaration, saying that HE IS THE ONLY WAY TO THE FATHER’S HOUSE. by expressing these doubts Thomas gives Jesus the opportunity to utter one of his most profound and most memorable sayings, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” We owe much to that blunt apostle, Thomas! The great 15th Century spiritual writer, Thomas a Kempis, wrote: “Without the Way, there is no going. Without the Truth, there is no knowing. Without the Life, there is no living.”
- a) JESUS is the Way
Jesus is not one among many. He is the one and only way. If you think we are exaggerating, notice what Jesus says a few words later, “no one comes to the Father except through me”. This is a universal negative. It says NOT ONE person will come to the Father’s House apart from Christ!
In this life, and in the face of our problems, THERE IS TRULY A WAY!
- For those who are lost, there IS a way home.
- For those who are confused, there is a way to put the mixed up pieces of life together.
- For those who feel hopeless, there is a way to real hope.
- For those who are beaten up by life, there is a way to healing and renewal.
- For those who have messed up their lives, there is a way to forgiveness.
That way is Jesus. The way is opened before us. If we want to find our way to the Father’s house, we have to travel the course Jesus laid out for us. Other roads may look attractive. Other roads may seem like short-cuts but only one road leads to where we want to go; and that is Jesus.
- b) JESUS is the Truth
On Jesus, one can build one’s life. He shows the false ways of other religions. There are people who would want us believe that there are really no substantive differences between religions. Such an assertion needs to be held up to careful scrutiny, and it should be declared fraudulent.
- For example, Islam says that Jesus was not crucified. Christianity says he was. ONLY ONE OF US CAN BE RIGHT.
- Judaism says Jesus was not the Messiah. Christianity says he was. ONLY ONE OF US CAN BE RIGHT.
- Hinduism says God has often been incarnate (taken human form/flesh). Christianity says God was incarnate only in Jesus. BOTH CANNOT BE RIGHT.
Christians are often exhorted by detractors to give up our exclusive claims. Believers in other religions ask Christians to be “humble enough” to admit the validity of all the other roads (all other religions). To this, our reply is: “Truth is not ultimately a matter of pride or humility; it is a matter of fact.” It is Jesus himself who tells us what we truly need to know. He tells us what is TRUE. He tells us what the absolutes, the anchors, the non-negotiables are in life. In a world that is constantly tossed to and fro by everything imaginable, Jesus shows us how to stand firm.
- c) JESUS is the Life
Jesus is the Life that we have always longed for. Deep inside of every person there is a yearning for something more. In Greek mythology, King Tantalus was punished in the underworld by being chained in a lake. Its waters reached to his chin but receded whenever he bent down to satisfy his burning thirst. Over his head were branches laden with choice fruit, but they immediately withdrew whenever he reached upward to satisfy his hunger. A symbol of utter frustration, his name is immortalized in the English word “tantalize.” King Tantalus is the perfect illustration of the way people feel about life apart from Christ. We all feel as if happiness, satisfaction, peace, joy, acceptance is so close, but we can never seem to reach it.
What we ought to realize is that without God there is no life worth living and that if we want to reach our full stature as human beings then we need to place our life in his hands and live it as if he were living it in us. This is the very best way for us to live our lives in an authentically, to live it in complete accordance with the maker’s instructions.
- WHOEVER HAS SEEN ME HAS SEEN THE FATHER
Somewhere in the middle of the gospel passage, another inquisitive disciple called, Philip, asked Jesus to be able to see the Father, and Jesus responded, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father.” To people of the ancient world, this statement: “Whoever has seen the me has seen the Father” is one of the most astonishing things they had ever heard. “SEEING GOD” with naked eyes! For the Jews it was an article of faith that no one could ever see God. As a matter of fact, they thought that anyone who did, by some accident, catch just a glimpse of the face of God would die instantly. For instance, when Jesus was transfigured on Mt. Tabor between Moses and Elijah, and the voice of God was heard, Peter, James and John fell down in terror and hid their faces lest they should make the fatal mistake of seeing God. Even when Moses spoke to God on Mt. Sinai and asked to see him, God replied: “You may see my back, but my face you may not see for no man sees me and still lives.” (Ex. 33:20). Yet here, in the gospel, not once but four times Jesus says; you have indeed seen God, because when you have seen me you have seen the father.
Jesus says this because “the father and I are one”. Jesus is the image of his father. Therefore, because Jesus was kind and merciful, so is his father; because Jesus would not cast the first stone at a sinner, neither would his father; because Jesus loved children; so does his father; because Jesus detested illness and wanted everyone to be healthy, so does his father; because Jesus hated death, as was so evident when he trembled and wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, so does the father. Again, because Jesus forgave and promised paradise to the worst kind of sinner who was crucified next to him, but who in his last moments asked to be taken to paradise, so will the father.
Jesus is a mirror of the Father. If we study his qualities in the Scriptures – looking at his parables, his teaching, his miracles, his healing, we see nothing but a picture of what God the Father is like. Like father, like son! Just as the apostles have already seen the Father, so have we, because we have seen the Son!
- WE NEED JESUS IN EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIVES
If we were to have more of Jesus in our lives we would have less fear, less worries and less anxieties. Sure, we would still have problems! God never promised that we would not have problems. Jesus himself had a big problem, he was sentenced to death as a common criminal. But Jesus rose on the third day and Jesus will help us also to raise above our difficulties also. If we try to live without Jesus life will not go nearly as well for us as when we have Jesus at the center of our lives. We can overcome problems better with Jesus in our lives than without Jesus. If we turn our backs on Jesus, how can we expect to succeed? Let us focus on Jesus and not on the problems. When we have problems let us turn to Jesus who is always waiting for us.
- Sometimes we say, “It’s impossible.” But Jesus says in Luke 18:27, “Things that are impossible for men are possible for God.”
- Sometimes we complain, “I’m too tired.” But Jesus says in Matt 11:28 “Come to me all you who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”
- Sometimes we say, “Nobody really loves me.” But in John 3:16 we read that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
- Sometimes we grumble, “I can’t go on.” But Jesus told Paul, “My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
- Sometimes we say, “I can’t do it.” But Paul wrote in Phil 4:13, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”
- Sometimes we murmur, “I can’t manage.” But Paul wrote in Phil 4:19, “God will fulfill all your needs in Christ Jesus as lavishly as only God can.
- Sometimes we say, “I’m afraid.” But in 2 Tim 1:7 we read, “God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power and love and self-control.”
- Sometimes we say, “I feel all alone.” But in Heb 13:5 God says, “I will never fail or desert you.”
- In our Gospel today Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.”
We have the SAME ACCESS to this SAME JESUS as his disciples did. This Jesus beckons on us, inviting us to trust in him. Let us pray for a strong faith in him, especially in the face of the problems we are currently going through in our personal lives, in our country and in our world. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.