The way, the truth, the life

| Father Michael Joncas | May 7, 2020 | 0 Comments

After Gospel readings on the Third Sunday of Easter concentrating on the empty tomb and appearance narratives concerning the risen Lord Jesus, and the mid-point of Eastertide focus on the Good Shepherd on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church turns our attention in the second half of Eastertide to reflection on Jesus’ “farewell address” as recounted in the Last Supper narrative of the Gospel of John.

Rather than directly relating to the Gospel readings, the other two non-psalm scriptural proclamations give us semi-continuous readings from particular New Testament books: the first from the Acts of the Apostles, recounting the growth of the early Christian community impelled by their faith in the risen Lord, the second from the First Letter of Peter, which some Scripture scholars believe contains a very primitive baptismal instruction/homily. The psalm is a hymn of praise, calling on those who live in covenant with God to exult and praise him because he is both creator and sovereign of the world. Christians could easily apply the psalm’s call to praise YHWH, the God of Israel, to Jesus the risen Lord.

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My reflections today will concentrate on the appointed Gospel reading. The Bible recounts many “farewell addresses” by significant figures in addition to Jesus in Luke 22 and John 14-17, e.g., Jacob (Genesis 49), Moses (Deuteronomy 31-33), Paul (Acts 20), etc. A typical farewell address occurs after a notice that the speaker is about to die or depart. The speaker then exhorts his hearers by means of prophecies, cautionary words about the future and revelations of God’s intentions for the future. The hearers are frequently charged to pass this message on to others. In some cases, there may also be a notice of the speaker’s death and burial.

Jesus begins his “farewell address” at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel reading, announcing his imminent departure, as well as his return to bring his hearers with him to a place of permanent communion with God. Thomas interrupts to state on behalf of the other disciples that they do not know where this place of permanent fellowship with God is, nor do they know how to get there. This interruption leads to what is the climax of today’s passage, when Jesus declares that he is the way (in Greek, “hodos”: normally a physical street, road or path, but metaphorically a process), the truth (“aletheia”: the real state of affairs as uncovered or revealed) and the life (“zoe”: distinctively divine, eternal life, as opposed to “bios” — life shared by plants and animals — or “psyche” — human “interior” life). As with others of the great “I AM” statements in John’s Gospel, there is an implication here that Jesus shares the status of the God of Israel, whose personal name is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3 as “I AM WHO AM.”

I have found John Dominic Crossan’s translation of this statement a magnificent summary of what Jesus hands on to his disciples at this point in his farewell address: “I am the authentic (truth) vision (way) of existence (life).” The challenge for us, as it was for the hearers of Jesus’ “farewell address,” is to live “in Christ,” i.e., to recognize and live by Jesus’ authentic vision of existence in contrast to other seductive visions offered to us, whose ways are dead ends, whose teaching is inauthentic and whose mode of existence keeps us apart from God.

Father Joncas, a composer, is an artist in residence at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.


Sunday, May 10
Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Category: Sunday Scriptures