Our willingness and capacity to trust is frequently tested in our world today. Depending on the issue and the individuals concerned we heap on the scorn and reject invitations to trust. We hold tightly to our cynicism and distrust. We’d rather trust our own judgement about the matter under debate.
The deep irony of John’s words in the Gospel reading, 14:1-14 concerns words meant to comfort us: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’ (v.1) but then, in some circumstances, the following words are used to justify exclusion: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v.6)
I spoke last week about this misuse of Jesus’ teaching, where his words about being the ‘good shepherd’ and the ‘gate’ are used to exclude and judge. Similarly, in this reading we find people justifying their judgements against others.
In earlier verses, Jesus had been telling his disciples he is going to the cross, a place where they cannot go, at least for now (13:36). So naturally the disciples are anxious and concerned regarding the Way, and what was to come next.
Like children about to be left by their parents, or students leaving school, the disciples need reassurance the way to their future is still reliable even after Jesus, their guide and teacher leaves. This is a passage about how Jesus’ followers must learn to trust in him as they have been called to trust in God.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. (v.1)
Their collective heart is troubled because despite having heard Jesus repeatedly indicate he was going to be crucified (3:14; 8:28, 12:32), they cannot imagine life without him present. They cannot see how his leaving them is good in any way. Jesus responds in the way he always does in John’s Gospel, he says: ‘Trust me!”
This is like a family conversation offering comfort and understanding among those followers who are struggling, among those being left behind for a while.
Jesus is reminding them, their future is already here, in his person. ‘Looking for water, for bread, for a home, – here I am. I’m right in front of you, me now talking to you, me who makes the Father and the future known to you.’ The core question, says Jesus, is do you believe this and me? Trust me.
The temptation is to misuse this passage, to wield this declaration as a weapon for jsutifying dividing and excluding. Some Christians, fearful for the salvation of people either not baptised or whom they feel believe incorrectly or who are not righteous enough in their view, use Jesus’ words to divide and control, coercing people into submission, as we discussed last week.
It is a ‘way’ never intended by Jesus whose sole message is one of love, of light and salvation, not darkness and fear of damnation, coercion and exclusion.
As Jesus’ disciples are comforted by him and challenged to stretch their thinking, trust and love, so the church and we should do the same. We should not be setting out to frighten people into submission or joining… but by calming fears, providing a loving welcome and patient listening. Just as Jesus did when his disciples yet again showed they had not understood.
Jesus has time for everyone who misunderstands his purposes and promises, so we should do the same as his disciples. As Jesus challenges the disciples to stop worrying about his absence in the future in order to experience his way and life and truth in the present, so the church should stop trying to judge who will be in our out in the future; and, instead, challenge one another with signs of God’s presence now.
God’s presence is in the home Jesus has described for me, so it’s worth taking time to reflect on what your home would look and feel like; loving, safe, a refuge and comfort, nourishing, warm and restful…I’m sure you have similar and different words to describe your home. As we think about how this nourishes not only our bodies and minds, we think too about how it feeds our souls.
If we trust Jesus when he says God’s Kingdom is on earth now, beginning for us now, and not at some point in the future, can we imagine what it is like for those who stumble across our path or come looking for it? I hope our home is overflowing with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The one house has many ‘dwelling places’. This is not surprising since we have heard from the beginning Jesus is the Saviour of the whole cosmos (4:42) he helped to create (1:3), and his crucifixion is all-inclusive:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (12:32).
All, not some!
Throughout John’s Gospel, we are invited to abide with Jesus, in his house, in God’s kingdom and to have life, eternal life, true life, which begins now. (20:31)
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our abiding place with them. (John 14:23)
Jesus prepares the place where we are all to abide and be united in God’s household by heading to the cross. There he births the church, God’s home. Jesus turns to the disciple from the cross and says, ‘Here is your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home (19:27). After all, home is where the heart is. Church is a real place, not an imagined fiction.
Augustine proclaimed: “Our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee” and church is to be such a place.
Jesus overwhelms us with reasons to believe and trust. He assures the disciples and us we can trust him. Jesus is intimately connected to God whom he calls Father. Jesus knows God’s provision, which he describes as a house with many dwelling places, is abundant for all who trust him and follow him as the way.
Jesus has ‘come again’ in the resurrection; his return demonstrates not even death can separate Jesus and his own from God. Jesus provides a permanent place of abiding with God for all who trust him. Our future is secure and already underway.
Jesus is so trustworthy we can enthusiastically and lovingly embrace a way of life marked by abiding with God today, because in Jesus we know the truth and have life.
His reference to ‘my Father’s house’ is more than a heavenly home after we die. Jesus is speaking of the relationship of indwelling between God and Jesus. Jesus assures us his return to God his Father makes it possible for us to be included and participate in the relationship he and his Father share.
Trusting Jesus, we will not let our hearts be troubled. Jesus is not saying we should not be sad or troubled. Jesus experienced such grief with Lazarus (11:33), his betrayal, (13:21) Peter’s denial and his own arrest.
Jesus knows this will happen to all of us. He says even when evil and death surround us we do not need to lose heart. Trusting Jesus is intimately connected to God and doing God’s work means we can rejoice at the completion of Jesus’ work of driving out the ruler of this world and drawing all people to himself. (12:31-32)
Calling that Friday ‘Good’, we trust Jesus is present and working wherever evil and death hold power to the point where we participate actively in the work Jesus is doing. Jesus says in 14:6:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is for us to trust we are seeing and hearing a guide on the way to life, who is the way to life with his Father, and shares and makes known this to us. Jesus’ life, glorification, death, resurrection and return to the Father benefit the whole world by bringing us all to abundant life.
This knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ deep relationship with God allows us to see our true home, our ultimate dwelling place.
This extraordinary teaching from Jesus is one to trust. As we do God’s work, we can be confident Jesus was speaking as much to us today as he was to his disciples at the final meal. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Although we have not seen Jesus as his disciples were able, we have seen Jesus through his words, in his works and in his life.
We see God and we see Jesus now.
If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him. (v.7)
The Lord be with you.