In this beautiful homily for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A, Father Hanly examines Jesus’ message to his disciples on the eve of his death.
First Reading: Acts 6:1-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19
Second Reading: First Peter 2:4-9
Gospel: John 14:1-12
This is the most beautiful, or one of the most beautiful, parts of the gospel. I think if you listen to it carefully, I think you will understand that you say to yourself, “Yes, yes, yes,” to everything he says.
Jesus is talking at the Last Supper, but John, who is recording it and who is also at the Last Supper, is recording it well, well after it happened. And so there’s two kinds of themes that you have to look at when we read this gospel. One is what Jesus has said and the other is how John himself feels.
I’m going to kind of make it a little bit shorter this time, I hope, and I’m just going to read it with little variations, but read it again.
And remember, Jesus knows that he’s about to die. He also knows that he will be spending the night in agony in the garden and that he will be arrested and, the next day, he will be put on trial and he will be judged, not only by his own disciples, who all run away from him, but also he will be judged by the leaders, the religious leaders of his day, and also by the Romans, the secular leaders of his day.
And so, it’s a time when we can say this is his last words and testament. After this, and after his resurrection, it will be a different world.
But you can see all the disciples, the poor apostles, sitting around, feeling quite sad. And he has just washed their feet. And, as you know, washing the feet is a terrible thing for them, because it’s the work of a slave, and the worst slave in the house is the only one who washes feet. And there’s Jesus washing feet and then telling them that they must learn to wash feet and that God washes feet and they shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
And what he means is that everything that God makes is full of great dignity and honour, and, when he washes his disciples’ feet, he’s not playing a game with them, he is recognising their inner greatness, because they shall live forever in the heart of God.
And he’s giving them their due. And so this is where we learn the great lesson that one must learn to sacrifice and pay honour where honour is due. And it is not due to ourselves, but to those around us.
Now, the words of Jesus: “I only give you one commandment: Love one another in the same way that I have loved you.” And that means you must learn to wash each other’s feet.
His heart is full of sorrow because he is going to leave them and he’s going to leave them in confusion. And only later, when he rises from the dead, will they begin to understand the total meaning of his coming, the incarnation of himself as man, taking on our life, taking on our difficulties as well as the wonders of being human beings.
And so he turns to them. And he knows, he knows their hearts, and so he speaks heart to heart. And what he says to them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have to have faith. You have to have faith and trust and love. You have to have faith in God, you must trust in God and you must love God. And you must have faith in me and trust me, for I and the Father are one.
“Do not be afraid. My Father’s house has many dwelling places. If that were not so, would I have told you that I am going, I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come back to you again and take you to myself so that where I am, wherever I am, you also may be. And where I am going, you know the way.”
He’s talking about after his resurrection. He will pass through death and they will despair, or at least be on the edges of despair, but he’s coming back. And he will come back and that is what he means.
“The place that my Father and I have found for you is in your own hearts, for I have gone through into a new kind of being, and the Father and I return that you might know that I am in the Father, the Father is in me, and we both dwell in your hearts.
“I say this so that you might know that where I am going, you know the way. The path through death does not end with death but ends with resurrection.”
And Thomas says to him, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?”
And then Jesus says to him the immortal words, “Thomas, I am the way, I am the truth and I am the life. I am the way. Just follow me, be with me, come with me, walk with me, love with me, care with me, forgive with me.
“And this is the truth: that God has taken you to Himself and made you one with Him and, together, we are to walk through the world with faith in each other and love for each other and forgiveness for each other.
“And this is what it means: to know me is to love me, to walk with me is to share my life and, at the same time, it is for me to love you and to let you not only share my life, but allow me to share yours with you.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. If you know me, love me, trust me and you will also know my Father. From now on, you do know Him because you see Him all the time.”
And then Philip interrupts him and says, “Master, show us the Father and we’ll all be happy.”
And Jesus says to him, “Have I not been with you so long a time, so very long a time, and you still do not know me?”
And he means, “You still do not love me. You’re still looking for other things. If you knew me you would love me, if you loved me you would know me more, and if you knew me more you would love me more, for there’s no separating knowledge, true knowledge, from love which is true love.”
He says to Philip, “Philip, whoever sees me, sees the Father. How can you say ‘show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me and we are together with you?
“The words that I speak to you, I do not speak of my own. The Father who dwells within me is doing His works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father dwells in me. Or else, at least, believe because of the works themselves, the works that you have seen by being with me, the works that the Father works and He works through me.
“You too shall do, you too shall forgive, you too shall heal, you too shall be instruments of salvation, you too shall learn how to love, not only your own brethren but through the whole world I will send you and they will know that God exists through the works that you do.
“And so, if you are going to follow me, you must learn to work, you must learn to reach out, you must learn to wash feet, you must learn to bless, you must learn to care, you must learn to be as our Father is: a constant giver, a constant lover, and one who is destined, and you are destined, to live together in eternal life.”
And finally he says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whosoever believes in me, trusts in me, gives himself to me, will do the works that I do, the healing and the caring and the reaching out and the loving of your fellow human beings.
“And you will even do greater ones than this, because I go to the Father and I leave you here, but not alone. I leave you here to carry out all that I have told you, all that God wants of you, and that is to love one another as we have loved you and how you have loved us, that the world may know that there’s no need to be afraid. To follow me and to be with me is to have a place with God Himself.”
At the end of this, I thought I’d like to read a poem for you. Do you know Emily Dickinson? She was a very famous, not that famous, but very famous in the people’s eyes who loved to read her poetry. She lived in the second half of the 18th century, and she was a kind of a recluse and she was kind of shy, and she writes recluse and shy little poems.
And I thought, since today we’re celebrating going home, because that’s where Jesus is taking us, he is taking us home, and she once wrote a poem about going home and it has about going home to God, and I’ll read it for you. It’s very short:
Going to heaven!
I don’t know when,
Pray do not ask me how,–
Going to heaven!–
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the shepherd’s arm!
If you should get there first,
Save just a little place for me
Close to the two I lost!
The smallest “robe” will fit me,
And just a bit of “crown”;
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.