Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
The next few days will present us with three opportunities to pray with the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel. Portions of it will be the Gospel reading for Friday and Saturday. Then on Sunday, we will hear those two excerpts as the Gospel for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time. We will hear that famous "I AM" statement; namely, I AM the way, the truth and the Life (John 14:6a). That statement could be paraphrased to read: I am the authentic vision or existence.
This chapter of the Gospel is the first of four chapters which we call the Farewell Discourse. Such statements are common in the Bible; Jacob, Moses and Paul – to name a few – all make such "good-bye" speeches. In American history, George Washington's speech at the completion of his second term is probably the most famous such speech. The thoughts that we hear coming from Jesus seem to indicate that this discourse is a compilation of several different traditions regarding the final evening of Jesus' life. Scholars believe that this discourse is the evangelist's creative presentation of the teachings of Jesus in the form of a farewell address. One such indication is that chapter fourteen closes with the words: Get up, let us go. (John 14:31c) However the discourse continues for three more chapters.
To understand what St. John is doing in this discourse, it is important to remember what the community is experiencing as it is being written. The Christian community is fearful for several reasons: persecutions are beginning to flare up throughout the Roman Empire, almost all the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension have died, and they are being expelled from the Jewish synagogues. One might think that the last of these three would be the least important. However that thought comes from our mindset. For the Jewish Christians, we have to remember that the Temple and the synagogue represented a way for them to enter God's presence. Without it, they could not experience God's presence in their lives. Chapter fourteen begins and ends with an admonition to put aside such fears.
If you have experienced such doubts and fears, you know that this simple admonition isn't going to be enough. So St. John uses the teachings of Jesus to help the early Christian community to overcome those fears. He says, in effect, that if one walks the way of love, the way that Jesus himself has trod, then one will definitely encounter God, who is Love. One need not fear being excluded from God's presence if one lives a life of love. Jesus can therefore claim that his way, the way of love, is the authentic vision of existence (true way of life).
We all experience doubts. Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing? Does God really love me? Am I in a state of grace? Am I living up to my responsibility as a follower of Jesus? First off, we can find comfort in the fact that the greatest saints also asked such questions. Perhaps the most famous example was St. Francis of Assisi. After a youth filled with pleasure seeking activities, he turned to a life of penance. Two years before his death, after an extraordinary lifetime of conversion, we find him atop Mt. Alverna in Italy asking God whether he had really been forgiven. The answer to his question came in the form of the stigmata, the brand marks of the crucifixion. St. Francis referred to the crucifixion as "true charity"; God loved us so much that God was willing to die for us.
Secondly, the Christian Scriptures assure us that the true dwelling of God is not in a Temple or a synagogue, not even in a Christian Church. God has chosen to dwell with the people. God has dwelled within us ever since we were baptized. There is no need to fear.