The overarching message of John’s gospel is always the divinity of Jesus. Never more so than in this week’s gospel… one of Christ’s last lessons before the crucifixion. We reflect on it now, during the Easter season, because it is a forecast that only makes sense in the context of the Resurrection. Before this, Jesus had been hinting about his leaving the disciples and then suddenly he springs it on them: I go now to prepare a place for you. This bombshell really gets their attention. In a flash Thomas and Philip are all: Hey, wait a minute. You’re going where? To do what?
To make a point, Jesus often uses Peter in the role of “everyman.” He is good-hearted and very biddable. By contrast, Thomas is “everyman” with an attitude. He is the perennial sceptic. He needs convincing. Philip is another story. He is Johnny-on-the-spot… receptive, helpful, eager to please. In framing this dialogue, first with doubting Thomas and then with enthusiastic Philip, Jesus is boxing the compass of personalities. He is illustrating that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house. There is room for Peters and Thomas’s and Phillips… and by extension there is room for all of us in our diversity. We are not meant to be cookie-cutter Christians. We are all called to follow Christ, but not in lock-step.
For the same reason that this gospel is an Easter message, it is a favorite for funeral services. It puts life and after-life in perspective. It is life’s ultimate orientation class. It tells us where we are, where we are going and how to get there. It comforts. It inspires: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me… I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. The Resurrection is the payoff to this promise. Jesus is pointing the way home. He is telling us: There are tough times ahead. But don’t be afraid. Trust me. The Father and I are one. Stick with me and I will stick with you. Follow me. And I will take you home.
This dialogue raises some unsettling questions: What’s all this going home stuff about? Our senses tell us that right here, right now is the only home we know. But Jesus is telling us that this is not our home. Sure, we have roots. We have an address. We have family and friends. But we are not home. Like passengers on a jet aircraft, our surroundings appear to be stable, when in fact we are hurtling through space in a thin aluminum and plastic tube. This life is a passage, not a destination. The passage may be first-class with fine wines and filet-mignon. Or it may be less than economy: squalid, cramped, uncomfortable… without even a bag of peanuts. Whatever the amenities, never mistake this passage for home. And because we are not home, Christian life this side of the grave was never meant to be in repose. We are in motion. We are on a “faith journey.” We are “pilgrims.” We “follow the Lord.
Jesus tells us he is the way for an obvious reason. He wants us to get up and follow him… to take up our cross… to suffer our Calvary’s… to come home to the Father in our own resurrections. His way is simple. In the face of all: Love God and neighbor. That’s Christ’s great commandment, not some sweet, bumper-sticker sentiment. Actively, deliberately, constantly make Christ’s way your life’s purpose… the way you face every obstacle and every opportunity. Make Christ’s way your way home. Alleluia! He is risen.