In this Sunday's Gospel the disciples are huddled in the upper room in Jerusalem on the eve of the crucifixion gripped with terror. The Greek word for being "troubled" here means being terrified by the prospect of death. Yet, Jesus tells them to not let their hearts be troubled. Many of us have faced the fear of death especially in these days of the present pandemic for ourselves or our loved ones. Fear of death often feels like a wet blanket that we just cannot entangle ourselves from. Is it possible for us to actually free ourselves from the fear of death?
Jesus answer is yes. How do we do it? Jesus answer to fear is to trust him. In many places in the New Testament we see that faith and focusing our hearts upon Jesus is the only antidote to fear. In this instance Jesus' command involves looking beyond the prospects of death to the personal dwelling place that Jesus is going to prepare for us in the Father's house in heaven. Interestingly Jesus is not asking us to deny the frightening reality of death but to accept it even with some sadness but to also engage our hope for a heavenly home. This is why this reading is often used at funerals which are an occasion of both sadness and hope. This reading reminds us that death does not have the final say and the grave is not our final homeland. For Jesus by his death and burial destroyed death and the tomb and so we are merely pilgrims that pass beyond death to the Father's house. This is why we call death falling asleep in the Lord or a passing from this life to eternal life.
St. Francis illustrated his deep trust in Jesus when immediately before his death he joyfully welcomed "sister death" because she was his entrance to the Father's house. While dying St. Francis said:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing your will!
The second death can do them no harm.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks.
And serve him with great humility.
I once heard a preacher share that he asked the Lord if he could have antique walnut ball and claw wooden furniture in his house and an English style garden with boxwood shrubs cut at perfect right angles. his might seem rather silly to give Jesus interior decorating advice if it were not so powerful. For such a prayer makes concrete the reality of the promise that Jesus is going to prepare a unique dwelling place for each of us that reflects our personality. Jesus knows us and loves what we love. Often when people are mourning the loss of a pet they will ask if their dog or cat will go to heaven. I often recommend that they ask Jesus to have their dog waiting for them in their personal mansion in heaven. By setting our hearts on the minute details of our own dwelling place in the Father's house can be an act of deep trust that makes us realize how much Jesus loves us and this revelation of love instantly flushes out the fear of death.
The ever "doubting Thomas," who always needs scientific proof before he gives his assent, says to Jesus that since they don't even know where he is going how can they know the way? Jesus gently corrects Thomas' very logical question by giving the sixth "I am" statement in the Gospel of John saying he is the way the truth and the life.
What Thomas does not understand is that Jesus himself is the new temple. In the Old Testament the temple in Jerusalem was seen by the the Priest theology as the only place that God and his glory cloud dwelt upon earth (Ex 25:8) (Kavod Theology). They viewed God as more immanent and more directly accessible but only in one limited place, the temple. The more lay oriented theology of Deuteronomy made God more transcendent and more accessible to the lay people who could not make it to the temple and said that God dwelt in heaven and only his name dwelt in the temple (Deut. 26:15; 12:5) (Name Theology). For Deuteronomy the ark was seen as a footstool where God rested his feet while he sat on his throne in heaven. While making God more geographically accessible Name Theology also made direct personal contact with God and his glory (kavod) more limited. Jesus changes this debate with these shocking words: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." (Jn 2:19). John tells us that he was not referring to the actual temple in Jerusalem but to his body which would be crucified and risen again. This means the Body of Christ risen from the dead is the new direct point of contact with God and his glory or the place he makes his name dwell. Jesus is the name of God accessible to all how call upon him in faith. What this means for us after the Ascension and Pentecost is that the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Church, which are the known as the real and mystical body of Christ respectively, are the true dwelling place of God.
This is what Jesus means when he says he is the way the truth and the life. Jesus is the way because his body on earth, the Eucharist and the Church, are the only way to access the Father. He is the truth because he is the Incarnate Word who reveals the Father. He is the life because he came down from heaven took a human body and died on the cross for our sins in order to take us to heaven and share the divine life with him, the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus sounds very exclusive here by adding that "No man comes to the Father but by me." (Jn 14:6). Does the mean you have to believe in Jesus, be a baptized member of the Church and feed on the Eucharist to go to heaven? The short answer to this question is yes. Other scriptures in the New Testament hold this very strict view that Jesus is the only savior: Mt 7: 13-14: Jesus is the narrow gate; 1Tim2:5: Jesus is the only mediator between God and man; Acts 4:12: "There is no salvation through anyone else. For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved."
Yet, the Catholic Church teaches that God is not bound by his sacraments and he can give the grace of baptism to those to who consciously and even unconsciously desire the waters of life. This is sometimes called the "Baptism of desire." Due to social, cultural or material conditions there are many who do not receive the revelation of the Gospel or who cannot enter the Church. Yet they can still be enlightened by the grace of God and this can be seen by their living a righteous life especially in other This can be true of both those who practice non-Christian religions and even atheists. However, those who consciously reject the reality of the Gospel message when it is presented to them risk having access to the Father because they reject Jesus who is only way to the Father. This is a call for us to faithfully preach Jesus to those we meet in such a way that they can really understand how much he knows and loves them and that they need not fear death if they believe in him.BACK TO LIST