The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
14 May 2017
O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 2:1-10
Last week I touched in passing on the Fourth Gospel’s tendency to emphasise the exclusive nature of his vision of salvation. In last week’s Gospel, John clearly reported Jesus saying “I am the door; anyone who enters through me will be saved.” While perhaps in marking the boundary between his community and those who remained observant Jews John did mean to say that the only way to salvation is through Jesus, I am not sure I can make that claim. Jesus himself in another passage from John’s Gospel also tells us in no uncertain terms that, “in my father’s house there are many rooms,” and I take comfort in that image.
What claim I can make, however, is the simple affirmative truth of the statement Jesus makes in that passage about the shepherd and the gate: “anyone who enters through me will be saved.” Following Jesus, participating in his life, death, and resurrection, as we the community of the baptised nourished by the Eucharist do, does and will ensure our place in the kingdom of heaven, ensure our place in the life of God. Jesus is the Way, certainly for us, to share in the life of God, the life of the one whom we and John name as Love.
Jesus says,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.” Again placed in terms of an exclusivity that John certainly meant, Jesus tells us that through him, through his actions, his signs, through the Word and living water, and bread and light, and yes, Love, we are shown the very nature of God, the one who sent him, and the one who shares his very substance with him. Jesus tells us that in and through his life and deeds we witness the work of nothing less that God and if we believe in Jesus’ work, we have seen and believe in the work of the Father.
Ultimately, however, is it is not just about belieing, to knowing, marvelling at wonderful deeds. It is not simply enough to recognise who Jesus is, recognise God at work. No, our lives are forever changed and we now have new responsibilities. There are profound and practical consequences to the realisations that Jesus is the Way and that God is revealed personally in Jesus. Saying that Jesus is the Way isn’t just making an affirmation about identity, it is literally marking him as the path we are to follow, as our pattern and our model. He is the life, not just because he gives us eternal life, hands us something that we did not have before, but because his life becomes our life. He is the path, his is the life we are to follow. It is a call to action.
Jesus goes on to tell his friends, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” If we believe in Jesus, know him to be the way, the truth, and the life, we are called into his work, to do the things he does. We do not do this to get something, to gain salvation. We do it simply because if we know that in Jesus we see God, we also recognise that if we are to be authentic to this reality, live in congruity with this reality, we are called to a particular life.
And what is this life? What do we see Jesus doing that we are now called to do? There are many ways to put it. In today’s lesson from First Peter we hear, “so put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” We do this having received mercy, having been called out of darkness, having seen the great deeds that God has done for us. Most obviously, then, if we see in Jesus’ life God’s work, then we are to treat each other better.
But there are so many other deeds and acts and signs we see in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to which we are called. Jesus’ way and life is one of inclusion—we see how he treated the woman at the well and the woman who anointed him with oil, we saw with whom he broke bread and whom he befriended. No one is outside the loving reach of God, no one is excluded from this way because of whom they love, what they do for a living, where they come from, whether they are old or young, because of gender or sex. Jesus way and life is one of abundant, generous neighbour love. It is one of deep care for each other, the care that the shepherd has for the sheep, the care that goes after the one lost sheep. This is the Way and the Life and the Truth. This is what we see in Jesus’ words and deeds. This is, therefore, who God is. This is the life to which we are called.
And we should have confidence that we will find support in this work, even when the Way is hard, even when the Way leads to the cross. Jesus tells his friends, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” Does this mean that everything will go our way? That we will succeed at everything? That literally everything we ask will be give us? I think not. I think, rather, what he is saying is that when we live according to the way, when we act in Love as Jesus did, then Divine Love will be manifested into that moment, that God will be present and will be glorified. Our loving actions add to the life of God. If we act in Love, we are acting in God’s name and God will not be stingy with the Love that becomes present. Yes, we will get it wrong, we will miscalculate, we will make mistakes in how we do it and yes, we may not always summon the nerve or courage or will to love into difficult moments. Yet, we are always called back to the way, always called back into that life. Most importantly, it is something we do tohether with our fellow companions on the Way. We are never alone.
What may on the face of it seem an emphatic and exclusive, all or nothing proposition, John’s text can be for us a generous invitation into the life of God. We know that we have access to that which is transcendent, that which (as I discussed last week) is completely other, in and through Jesus. In Jesus we can see and know and participate in Divine Love, eternal and abundant, and in Jesus we know that in the here and now, in our immanent reality, we can participate in that Love and, more importantly, be agents of that Love. One we can see and recognise Divine Love at work in the world, we are bound to it, bound to do our best to further its eternal purpose.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Easter Feria, 13 May 2017
© 2017 Andrew Charles Blume