The 5th Sunday of Easter [A] – homily

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]
Acts 6:1-7  +  1 Peter 2:4-9  +  John 14:1-12
May 14, 2017

“… be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

The older you grow, you know fewer and fewer people in this world.  The older you grow, the fewer contemporaries you have.  The older you grow, the fewer people there are around who have shared most of your life with you.  Because of this, the older you get, the more you look ahead to the future.

But here there’s a sharp difference between the elderly and young people.  After all, young people—who at times do get caught up with the present moment—certainly do look ahead to the future.  We might think, for example, about those graduating this month, or being promoted from grade school to high school, or those engaged couples who anticipate in just a few weeks becoming husband and wife.  All of these young people look ahead to the future:  to the opportunities of high school, to the independence of college, to the paycheck that comes from a job, to the beauty of a shared life with one’s spouse.

But all these future realities that young people dream about are realities within this world here below.  All of them are “earthly opportunities”, you might say.

Then on the other hand, those who are elderly also look to the future, but to the future that lies beyond the threshold of death, already passed by so many of those whom they’ve known.  You might call this the “opportunity of Heaven.”

Regardless of whether you are young or old or somewhere in between, during these latter weeks of the Easter Season, Jesus wants you to focus on Heaven.  After all, that’s where He’s headed, and He wants you to follow Him there.  When we’re young, our proximate future might distract us from the future of Heaven.  When we’re older, we might lose hope and wonder why our delay in leaving this world is so long.  Jesus, on the verge of His own Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand, speaks to our concerns.

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“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Jesus speaks these words in order to turn your gaze to Heaven.  As the Evangelist relates these words of Jesus to His disciples at the Last Supper, two of these disciples speak out.  You might find that you can relate to each of them in turn.

The first is the Apostle Thomas, often called “Doubting Thomas”.  The name “Doubting Thomas” is usually connected to Thomas doubting his fellow apostles when they tell him that they’ve seen the Risen Lord.[1]  On that occasion, Thomas is doubting the apostles, not Jesus directly.  When Jesus does appear to Thomas, the apostle no longer doubts but instead cries out, “My Lord and my God!”[2]

But today, we hear Thomas express doubt about Jesus, and Thomas does this in two ways.  Thomas doubts Jesus first when he complains that “we do not know where you are going”.  In other words, he’s expressing doubt about Jesus as a leader, because a good leader makes sure that his followers know their goal so that they can focus on it.  But Thomas doesn’t stop there.

His second expression of doubt concerns the means by which to reach the goal.  “How can we know the way?”  You have to admit that Thomas does have a point:  if you do not know where you’re headed, how can you know the way to get there?  Only a fool begins a journey without knowing where he’s headed.  If he doesn’t know the goal, then every step is as likely to take him farther away from his goal than it is to take him closer.

Many people in our culture feel as if they’re not really going anywhere in life, no matter how many ladders they climb.  Neither the way nor the goal seems to amount to much.  Earthly goals after so many decades seem not to lead to the sort of accomplishment they had hoped for, and the goal of Heaven seems far away.  So, the doubter asks, what is the connection between earth and Heaven?  As far as reaching the goal of Heaven, is our time on earth one of simple waiting, and hoping we don’t commit the mortal sin that will close the doors of Heaven to us?  This is a very negative view of the spiritual life:  that following Jesus is defined by what we don’t do.

This is where we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the apostle Philip.  The apostle Philip hears Jesus’ magnificent response to Thomas:  “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus makes it plain that the life of the Father is what Heaven is all about.  When the Ascension of Jesus takes place, Jesus ascends to the Right Hand of the Father.  So our lives as Christians on this earth are a journey towards the Father:  a journey we make through God the Father’s only-begotten Son.

Philip responds with a simple request:  “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  Philip seems simply to be saying that he doesn’t even want to ask for the Father’s eternal embrace in Heaven.  For Philip, just to be shown a glimpse of the Father while on earth is enough.

But if Philip thought that he was being humble in making this request, Jesus has other ideas.  Jesus responds by rhetorically asking:  “Have I been with you for so long… and you still do not know me, Philip? … How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”  You can almost imagine Philip wide-eyed at Jesus’ response, thinking that he’d only made a very simple request.  Jesus for His part, however, is making clear that following Him is no simple matter.

Jesus expands on His relationship with God the Father.  Jesus explains to us that His own words and works are not done on His own.  The Father and the Son are one.  They are one to such perfection that their words and works are one.  This is a profound point, but it’s not Jesus’ final point—or even His strongest point—in today’s Gospel passage.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”  The words with which Jesus introduces this teaching are a red flag to us:  “Amen, amen, I say to you….”  Jesus uses this phrase fifty times over the course of St. John’s account of the Gospel:  each time, it’s a signal for our ears to perk up.  In today’s Gospel passage, this phrase introduces the point that brings together everything Jesus has been explaining to His disciples, including Thomas, Philip, and you.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”  This is almost scandalous.  How can we do greater works than Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

The answer is that the Easter Season is not just about Jesus rising from the dead.  The Easter Season is also about Jesus rising to the Right Hand of the Father.  Jesus’ Ascension makes it possible for those ‘greater works’ to be worked by us, Jesus’ followers.  Whether it’s the work of one’s vocation to marriage or religious life, or whether it’s dedication in old age to an intense life of prayer and the acceptance of suffering, each and every Christian finds strength in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only Way that leads to the embrace of God the Father.  If you remain close to Jesus, you are on the Way.

God our Father, source of all life and goodness,
bless our mothers:
those here present, and
those from whom we are separated by distance or death;
fill them with your grace,
so that, in imitation of our Blessed Mother Mary,
they may through their prayers and sacrifices
lead us, their children, into your eternal life,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] John 20:24-25.

[2] John 20:26-29.