This morning’s Gospel reading is John 14:1–12:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
In the film Dumb & Dumber, Lloyd Christmas is infatuated with Mary Swanson, who has zero interest in any relationship with him. At one point, Lloyd asks Mary directly what chance he has with her. “Not good,” Mary replies, trying to let him down easy. “You mean … not good like one out of a hundred?” Mary responds, “I’d say more like one out of a million.” Lloyd pauses for a moment, and then replies with a grin, “So you’re telling me there’s a CHANCE!”
Why do we sometimes fail to see the obvious? What within us blinds us to the truth, and blocks our path to wisdom? In Dumb & Dumber, the answer is Lloyd’s comically contrived lack of intellect, but the rest of us don’t have that excuse. Too often, we fail to find that which has been evident all along, and today’s Gospel shows an episode that directly reflects that very human failing.
This scene in John takes place at the very beginning of the Passion story. Judas had just left to find the temple guard to arrest Jesus after the Last Supper, and Jesus has only a short period of time left to instruct His disciples. In John’s Gospel, this final instruction before His arrest goes four chapters, culminating in Jesus’ beautiful prayer for His church in John 17. Just before the passage for today’s Mass, Jesus prophesies to Peter that the rock on which this church will stand will not only fail to proclaim the truth that night, but will lie three times to save himself “before the cock crows.”
In that context, the start of John 14 can be seen as Jesus consoling Peter and the other ten disciples with him, and that all will unfold for a purpose. “Have faith also in me,” Jesus says, and all will be well. However, Thomas and Philip both begin questioning Jesus, and in some measure themselves. Thomas wonders how they can follow Jesus if they have no idea where He’s going at all. Philip’s doubts are even more profound; he wants to see the Father to have His heart settled, not understanding yet whence Jesus comes.
Jesus corrects both men and answers their doubts with essentially the same answer — that Jesus and the Father are one. He offers a rebuke to Philip, saying, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” In His reply, Jesus tells the disciples that they should know Him by now through the Word, but if not that then by His works themselves. Rather than speak in parables at this point, Jesus then goes on to explain all that will happen, to the point where the disciples will exclaim (John 16:29-30), “Ah, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure! Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”
And yet, as Jesus immediately prophesies, even then the disciples will find themselves scattering away from Him during the Passion. All but John will hide in fear and distance themselves from Jesus. Even when told the truth plainly, they still do not quite grasp it, and for a period of time almost literally run away from it. The resurrection of Jesus will renew their faith, but even then Thomas struggles with it until forced to recognize Jesus’ physical presence.
Our struggles with truth are not Lloyd Christmas’. We have the intellect to comprehend the truth, at least as much of it as we need to find the path to salvation, even if we’re not meant to unravel every mystery along the way. We resist the obvious because it conflicts with our own desires, our own will, and the ways in which we perceive the world. Judas Iscariot, for example, was a zealot who may have assumed that the Messiah was to become a mighty military leader that would re-establish an earthly kingdom by conquering the Romans at arms. The other disciples may or may not have had similar predispositions to that point of view, but at the least clearly did not consider that victory could be won by the execution of the Messiah. This confusion blinded the disciples to the truth of Christ’s necessary sacrifice until after His death and resurrection, even though Jesus explained this in plain terms on the evening of the Last Supper.
For us, the predispositions of the meaning of salvation may be even more needlessly complex than in the time of the disciples. We face contradictions upon contradictions in our worldly life, and temptations on temptations. Our attempts to reconcile those outside of the Word eventually put us in the same position as Judas, or as Peter when Christ rebuked him for trying to thwart the will of God (Matthew 16:23). We put our own will ahead of the will of God, a kind of usurpation of God’s judgment, a way of running away from the truth in front of our eyes.
In some ways, this is more understandable because of the distance from Jesus’ time on earth, but in other ways less understandable, too. After all, we may not have seen Christ in the flesh, but we know His works all too well, including the resurrection itself. Jesus tells the disciples that they can come to belief either through His Word or His works; all that matters is that we have true faith in Him — and that we put His will ahead of our own.
That is the struggle we face every day, perhaps all the more so because we do have intellect, unlike Lloyd Christmas, and we cling to our own perceptions just as doggedly as does Lloyd. Christ tells us to open our eyes, and to allow the will of God to enter our hearts — not as a threat to our intellect, but as a fulfillment of it and a comfort to our longings. When we do that, we have more than “a chance” — we will have eternal life in the Lord.
Finally, allow me to wish a happy Mother’s Day to all of our Hot Air readers! May the Lord bless your parents, your children, and all the members of your families.
The front page image is Michelangelo’s Pietà, on display at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, from my own photo collection.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.