10 May 2020 Homily by Bishop Noel Treanor for 5th Sunday in Easter

I “Do not let your hearts be troubled “ ( Jn 14.1)

On this fifth Sunday after Easter the readings for the liturgy of the Word exude unease, questioning, even complaint.

As we listen to these readings, we gain a glimpse into the mindset, firstly, of those followers of Christ after Jesus had washed their feet prior to the Last Supper. As the opening line of the gospel text – “do not let your hearts be troubled” – suggests, they are distraught at the prospect of Jesus’ imminent betrayal and death. They have need of continuity, permanence, certainty, rather than rupture, change, or a new order. Like us, they will have to learn that an incarnate God never ceases to surprise.

Then with the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles the line of vision and insight moves to the early Christian community as it is taking shape. That community is already made up of people of different cultures and backgrounds. Some are Jews, like the apostles, whilst others are of Greek background.  As we noted, the Hellenists complained. They felt they were not getting a fair deal : their widows were not in receipt of equal treatment.    

Finally, the lines from the first letter of St Peter, which speak of the Christian community as a “spiritual household”, also allude to the persecutions already being endured by the early Christians. The right to religious freedom was still a long way off on the horizon of history and, even if now long since gained, it remains fragile in our contemporary world and its specificity is often inadequately understood even in our more developed democracies.

With each of the three readings therefore we glimpse varying levels of challenge to faith, or, if you will, the pulsar quality of the life of Christian faith for both the individual believer and for the community of faith. 

For the individual, questions as to the possibility and the meaning content of faith arise, as exemplified by the questions of the disciples, Thomas and Philip. 

For the community, the parish or Pastoral Community, issues arise within the  life of the community :  matters of governance require resolution, and, what is more challenging, as seen in this extract from the Acts of the Apostles, new ministries and new ways of living out our mission of being a “royal priesthood” have to be evolved, in fidelity to the Word of God and the long history of Christian experience and tradition, and then they have to graft into the life of the Church, and be received by the Christian community.

Like those first Hebrew and Hellenic Christians, we are a generation which is called to that width of vision in our response to the Word of God which will lay the ground for new patterns of celebrating and living the life of Christ in our time. If this excites some, it rigidifies others and gives rise to fear for others. On the threshold of such times of change in the life of the Christian community, the centre-point, what St Peter refers to as “the living stone” (1Pt 2.4), the person of Christ, is central.  Hence the inspirational value for us of the dialogues and discourse in the lines we have heard from the gospel according to St John.

II  “If you know me, you know my Father too”(Jn 14.7)

In these lines Jesus replies to the two questioners, to his disciples, Thomas and Philip. In response to them he asserts that he is “the way, the truth and the life” (Jn14.6), that is words express the intent and mind God, his Father. God, he asserts, is made known, is glimpsed, in his works of care, healing and forgiveness, in his treatment of the stranger and rejected of society. He goes on to say that those who believe in Him, Jesus, will “perform the same works as I do myself” (Jn 14.12), indeed “even greater works” (Jn14.12).

In these few lines the author of St. John’s gospel has set out signposts for us to understand and appreciate the mystery of the Christian life and faith :

  • In the discourse and dialogue with Thomas and Philip we hear that the works of care, healing and mercy, carried out by Christ, and which we can emulate in our actions, are the veins, the conduits, of divine life and love : in such outreaches to others we live, discover and experience the life of God
  • Also, in these lines Jesus links his Word with works, with human action: here we are invited to recognise the inspirational and orientational quality of the Word of God. The living Word of God calls and inspires to seek out and follow “the way, the truth and life” (Jn14.6).  Christian lifestyle, the choices made by the Christian believer in the face of questions raised by life and existence, are inspired by a world view of ultimacy and interconnectedness which ennobles and goes beyond the calculation of immediate momentary resolution. The Christian’s code is one of the exercise of freedom the perspective of the inalienable dignity of each human person, of humanity itself and of hope eternal.
  • To the perennial, incisive and betimes disturbing question of Philip – “let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied” (Jn 14.8), Jesus’ reply – “ to have seen me is to have seen the Father” (Jn 14.9 ) – is a source of assurance and consolation.

It assures us that God and the ways of God are imprinted in our better inclinations and in our nature as human beings. The Word of God, the Christian faith, call us and helps us to enact this innate goodness in each one of us. 

Jesus’ response also consoles in that the Christ we see in faith is the Risen Christ, who having broken through death and evil, commissioned the motley group of apostles, people like us, to become agents and recipients of his saving love in time and history.  

So today let us allow these readings to anchor us in the long Christian tradition of faith in Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, in whom we glimpse God and the ways of God.

Let us recognise Him as the living Word of God, that Word which inspires us, constitutes us as Christians, heals us of sin and failure, re-energises us in the quest for truth, justice and peace, as it empowers us with a new and transformative hope in the life of the Resurrection.