It is very tempting for a deacon to reflect on the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us the account of the establishment of the Order of Deacons in the Church. I could share with you how deacons are called to be conformed to Christ the servant, or remind you that Deacon St. Stephen was the first martyr of the Church, but I’ll save that for another time. The Gospel reading today is so full, so compelling, that it demands our full attention.
In this Easter season, the Gospel presents us with Jesus giving testimony about who he is. Jesus is fully human, and fully divine. For those raised with a Christian world view this statement may be one you have heard before, even many times. But this astonishing claim is so unique, and so central to our faith that is has been the subject of theological, contemplative and even mystical wonder and study since the time of the earliest Christians.
In today’s reading, from the farewell message of Jesus to his disciples, Jesus reveals to the disciples and us both of his natures.
To set the stage, this conversation between Jesus and his disciples takes place in the context of the Last Supper. Jesus and the disciples just have completed a friendly, intimate and very religiously charged Passover meal. Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It appears that Judas has already turned away to go to his own place.
Jesus, the teacher, with his human heart and intellect but knowing that his passion was imminent, looks with love on his disciples. “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. He knows that the disciple’s natural reaction and response to the betrayal and cruelty of the next few days will be shock, fear, and anger. But he says…do not let your hearts be troubled. Jesus, in his humanity tells the disciples, and us as well, that we have the choice to let our hearts be troubled and disturbed by events and emotions, or not. “Have faith” he says- faith in God and faith in me. Have faith that God has good things planned for you, that grief, fear and anger are not the end and need not overwhelm you. He doesn’t tell the disciples not to grieve, be angry and afraid. Jesus in his human heart knows that emotions and feelings are a necessary part of being human; and so Jesus in his divinity offers the supernatural graces of faith and hope. Have faith in God and faith in me.
Jesus, friend and teacher of the disciples, tries to prepare them for what is coming. He tells them “I am going to prepare a place for you”. He is going away, going to his Father’s house, where he will prepare a place for them also; going to heaven, which is their final destination. I must go, but I will be back for you.
This part of the dialogue pulls on my emotions. I envision a parent talking gently to a child. I think of my own children and what they must have felt when I had to travel. A child does not, cannot fully understand why their mother or father has to go to work, or on a trip, or to the hospital. Where is he going? Will I be left alone? And so Thomas asks- and you can almost hear the fear in his voice- “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”
Jesus’s answers mysteriously, as he so often does. “I am the way and the truth and the life.” This one sentence is truly a mystery for in these few words Jesus reveals both his human and divine natures.
First, Jesus is the way. He is the way to the Father – he is not the Father. He said “If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” Jesus’ mission, the reason he became human, was to reveal the Father and show us the way to the heavenly kingdom where the Father dwells. Follow Christ, and you will not be able to go astray, because He is the way. They who remain with him do not get lost in a wilderness; they are on the right way.
But what he says next must have blown the apostles minds, and it should blow ours today as well. “I am the Truth and the Life”.
The Truth. Not a truth, not my truth or your truth. He is God’s definitive and perfect Word expressing who God is, what He’s like, who we are, and what we need to do to be saved from misery and futility. And I am the Life. The Life of the world, the source of all life. The world is marred by death. Many accept death as the end. But Jesus speaks of life. He is the life. In revealing himself as the Truth and the Life Jesus shows us the he and the Father are one, are consubstantial. Jesus shows us his divinity, God’s equal, and part of the eternal Godhead.
Jesus is fully human, and fully divine. He is the Way, because he is the truth and the life. He is the Truth as the authentic and full revelation of God, the Father. He has shown us the Father. And he is the Life, because he offers eternal life, that life which is a share in God’s own life, the life of the Father, given through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, the co-eternal Word of God and Only-Begotten Son of God, took on our full humanity without loss of his divinity. This is a mystery of the Faith that is foundational to Christian belief.