On the 5th Sunday of Easter, as a Community of Faith, today we go over Jesus’ farewell speech, the words he spoke the night before his death (John 14: 1-12). They are words of comfort, among the best ever spoken by a friend to his friends. But they are also powerful words uttered as a guarantee, as a pledge of immortality. We hear them repeated oftentimes at funerals. It must be so because nearness of death troubles our hearts especially in recent months as the specter of the coronavirus increases our anxiety. We welcome them spoken to us today so that our entire earthly journey may stay the course with a decent degree of serenity.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
We trust in God—somewhat. Hence, Jesus seems to say: “At times your faith in God borders on magic. You would like my Father to be Mr. Fixit. But that is not the way He operates. He is not going to arrange events so as to keep you, in time, from dying. He is not going to spare you the trials and the sorrows that are interwoven with your daily life as they are with everyone else’s life.”
Then Jesus adds: “Have faith also in me; as if to say that, since the Father and he are one, he should make our trust in God easier.
Indeed, Jesus is fully God, equal to the Father in everything, but also fully human, one like us in all things but sin. Our faith in God, aided by our faith in Jesus enables us to keep our hope alive whenever we face daunting circumstances as in these days; and we console ourselves by thinking that when we die everything will be just right because we’ll get to go to heaven.
However, in this sense, thinking of Jesus as God and, therefore, as “Mr. Fixit, Jr.” we interpret the following familiar words in an earthy dimension “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?”
Maybe we picture Jesus about to leave us, counting us one by one, and saying: “OK, it seems like we need 250 tickets for the best heavenly seats. Let me go get them. I’ll be right back.”
Besides sounding rather childish, this interpretation doesn’t answer very pressing questions such as: “What about some solace now? We can surely use a lot of it in these anguished days. What about the time between now and the day in which the Father calls us to Himself?”
Jesus’ invitation to have faith in him, too, is also an invitation to see the rest of our life on earth through his eyes. On the same night before his death, during the Last Supper, at that first Eucharist, Jesus gave us a pristine, new way of referring to ‘dwelling places’. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
Do you see? The dwelling place that Jesus prepares for us by going to the Father is our heart. So, heaven is not a dream place somewhere above the clouds that we’ll enter into through the pearly gate. It does not have all the beautiful, enticing things that our wildest imagination might dream up. Heaven is Jesus, with the Father and the Holy Spirit living in our heart and we living in the Holy Trinity! God, who is everywhere, wishes to create heaven in us so that He and we may be together forever.
For this to happen we ought to learn to love Jesus deeply and to live, day in and day out, by his teachings. But, before we can learn to love him and to live out his teachings, we must have faith in him even as he goes to the Father. That is what he would do less than a day later, on the cross.
Going to the Father therefore means simply to obey the Father even unto death on the cross. Thus, through his blood, Jesus is the way that leads to the Father. He puts it more plainly during the very same first Eucharist: “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.”
Our way to the Father implies two heroic elements with which we cannot deal apart from Jesus: to love him by loving our brothers and sisters; and to love them even to the point of death on “our cross.” Heaven consists of having the Father and Jesus dwelling in our hearts through the right inner disposition created in them by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will sustain us in carrying out Jesus’ new commandment.
So, if heaven is the Holy Trinity dwelling in us, and we in the Holy Trinity, since God is love, the more perfect our loving becomes the more we’ll enjoy being in heaven even now. This is the bold idea that Jesus is proposing to us, today. And if that were not an incredibly new perspective by itself, we should continue to take him seriously when he adds that we will do his works and even greater ones than them.
But, how can we, poor, fragile, hesitant, self-centered, insignificant creatures believe that we could do things greater than those Jesus himself has ever done? Just to believe that we could pull off this stunt must be absolutely insane. But Jesus does not trim down his statement to make it credible. We can perform greater things than he did because He is going to the Father, i.e. because of his death on the cross.
So, to sum it up: the way to the Father, the way to having God dwell in us, the way to heaven, is the way of the cross, the way of sacrificial love. Even so, we still wonder how we could perform deeds greater than those of Jesus. But, let us realize that before going to the Father, Jesus’ success was nearly nil. With the exception of our Blessed Mother, the beloved Disciple and a handful of women, all others, including those who benefited from his miracles, had all deserted him.
This is how it is possible and believable for us to do things greater than those performed by Jesus. In the power of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection, we can perform great deeds of loving and serving and live with a lasting foretaste of heaven even now, on this earth. God does not expect us to save the world a second time. By greater things He must refer to our humble contribution of caring, of being attentive to the needs of others, of joyous service so that His love may reach every single member of the Mystical Body.
Therefore, in our second reading, St. Peter suggests that we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-9). His suggestion refers to exactly the same commandment of love that Jesus gave us hours before dying for us on the cross. The lesson we should learn today is the most useful one we can ever learn because it enables us, through our loving, through the offering of spiritual sacrifices, to allow God to dwell in us; i.e., to bring heaven a bit closer to our hearts.