Our Sacred Stories ~ The Unlimited Discovery of Our/My God
In one of the final chapters of his book, How Big is Your God? Loyola Press, 2007, ch.47, Jesuit priest Fr. Paul Coutinho relates the story of a 4-year-old named Neil. Fr. Paul met Neil and his parents after Mass one day. He had been talking about the “breath of God” being in all persons and things, noting that all we need is the eyes and ears of faith to experience its presence. Neil revealed this capacity when he climbed onto his Mom knee, held her face in his hands and looking into her eyes, proclaimed: “Mom, I can see God in you, and she is a girl.”
In John’s Gospel, the last section (chaps. 13-20) is often called “The Book of Glory”. It relates the final steps of Jesus’ path to crucifixion and then resurrection. Before the glory of new life, there will be a dying and darkness. Jesus will challenge his disciples as they enter this dark experience. He will also encourage and support them, providing the consolation of hope in a new life.
John 14:1-12 is part of a discourse set at the table of the Last Supper. It shows Jesus as he prepares his disciples for the darkness of his crucifixion. He reassures them he will return to be with them as the way to the kingdom. They need not be troubled or fearful. They are called to trust in God and trust in Jesus himself who showed them the way.
John’s Gospel is the latest of the four gospels. The first level of meaning tells of the darkness and anxiety among the disciples who had walked with Jesus. But the Gospel was written more than a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection for the new disciples of the writer’s own time. This offers a second level of meaning. John wrote for these later disciples of his own age who faced the rejection of their own communities. He called for them to have faith and to live in hope. There is as well, a third level, our own present experience.
We face many challenges in life. Often, they take us into darkness and anxiety. Some of these challenges are personal, others are global, affecting humanity more broadly. In the midst of the problems facing our own times, we quite rightly seek to find solutions that respond to them or lessen their impact. The darkness comes when we are unable to solve them or at least to solve them quickly. We are left sometimes with uncertainty and doubt and discouragement.
This is where the disciples were in John’s Gospel. At the table of the Last Supper, as Jesus tells them he is leaving them, they find themselves overwhelmed by such darkness. As he seeks to reassure them, they are filled with questions. Peter asks: “Lord, where are you going?... Why can’t I follow?”
Thomas exclaims: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus tells them that through him, they have come to know the Father. Still, they fear losing him. Philip appeals to him: “Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus has urged his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” The spiritual writer John Shea comments: “I think our hearts become troubled by death and loss because we believe in too small a God. We need an understanding of God that blows our mind.” (The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers Year A 185)
In other words, we should see God as mystery, something that is so great that we can never exhaust its truth. No matter how much we try to capture the full meaning of God, it evades us. We will ever be discovering newness and more in God. Shea turns to St. Anselm, a Benedictine monk and archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109) in all this. While we quite naturally want to “know-for-sure”, the greatest consolation when we face challenges is in living with a relationship of trust. With trust we rest in hope, even without the certitude we crave.
It is no small thing that this Gospel also reveals a call to action, the result of such trust, hope and love: “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do (John 14:12).” Truly, Good News in this time.