Gospel Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter – 7th May 2023 Written by Fr Brian Maher OMI
There must have been many times in Jesus’ life when he wondered why he had chosen these particular twelve people to be his Apostles. Apart from the fact that one of them betrayed him to the Roman authorities, leading to his death, and the man he had chosen as leader, and called his ‘rock’, denied he even knew him on three occasions in quick succession, the Gospels recount many other incidences when his apostles either didn’t understand him or weren’t even listening to him.
Think about it for a minute: Thomas demanded to see his wounds in order to believe; in the garden of Gethsemane, hours before his arrest, when he was clearly deeply troubled, the three he had asked to stay with him fell asleep, not once but on three different occasions. On an earlier occasion he discovered them bickering like children about which of them would be closest to him in Heaven, two of them even asking to ‘sit on his right and on his left in the Kingdom’. During his final suffering, all those years of close friendship disappeared when all except one of them ran away, in fear for their own lives.
…Which, of course, brings me to this week’s Gospel. It has to be one of the clearest and most beautiful insights into the person of Jesus, as well as the relationship God chooses to have with his people.
Yet here again, he is miserably let down by those closest to him. Despite everything they have seen, including the Resurrection itself, it is our friend Thomas (the doubter!) who seems to be blissfully ignorant of what has been going on around him for three years. When Jesus tells them that “you know the place where I am going…” it is Thomas who, in his usual forthright and rather blunt manner, tells Jesus, “…we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas, it must be said, was not the most subtle of people!
As if that is not enough, Philip immediately adds insult to injury by saying, “…Let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.” Poor Jesus must have wondered what it would take to ‘satisfy’ them.
The response of Jesus, I think, says it all. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” In that one, short, statement, spoken I’m sure with a sigh of resignation, Jesus sums up his frustration, almost bemusement, at their lack of understanding. Anyone who has ever been a teacher of teenagers, or probably anyone who has ever been a parent, will know exactly how Jesus must have felt – one part wanting to knock their heads together, and another part wondering how many times something has to be said before the light blinks into life above their heads and the penny drops.
Being a person who seeks to walk the trails and roads of Galilee with Jesus, it is important for me to look in the Gospels for the clues we are given about his life and the lives of those around him. It is so easy to read about the miracles Jesus worked, to listen to his teaching, to look at his endless compassion, and to forget that they were real people, living in a real political and social context, suffering the effects of weather too hot and too cold, becoming tired, needing to buy food, find shelter and monitor their spending.
It is also easy to forget that they had their tensions and conflicts. They must have had them. No group of people, however compatible, can live closely together in perfect harmony and absolute peace. Well, the Blessed Trinity can live like this, but only them!
Today, in this wonderful Gospel, we witness the reality of the person of Jesus, revealed after his Resurrection in his on-going unity with the Father. The wonder of this Gospel, for me, is that we are given the ‘height and depth and breadth’ of God’s closeness to us, without losing the very real tensions and misunderstandings present among the apostles.
This Gospel is the message of Jesus’ entire life. It is the message of his words and actions told and retold every day of his life. But now, after the Resurrection, there is nothing more for him to achieve on earth, and so this message of his life, and of his relationship with God, is, in hindsight, expressed in a much clearer and more obvious way.
And what a message it is. In his own words:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me. I will take you to the place where I am going. If you know me, you know the Father too. It is the Father living in me, who is doing this work. Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself. Maybe even greater works because I am going to the Father where I can work on your behalf.”
There is not one word or phrase in this Gospel that we cannot recognise in the life, words, and actions of Jesus.
And yet…and yet…those closest to him still had difficulty understanding it. It is as if they are still partly blinded by their humanness. They now see Jesus differently and somehow know that he lives ‘in God and God lives in him’ yet they are still plagued with doubts and uncertainty.
The words of today’s Gospel are simply ‘too good to be true’. These men – the apostles – who have journeyed long with Jesus still struggle to accept that it is, in fact, true.
“You need to actually show us where you are going – thrones, angels, Heavenly gates, the works….” Thomas says to Jesus, “…until then it is just too much to believe.”
“You need to show us the Father – God – so that we can be satisfied and believe….” Philip adds.
And Jesus says to them in reply, “…but I have shown you! Everything you have seen me do and say shows you the Father. I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Listen, I’ll say it again, ‘…I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ (that line is twice repeated in the Gospel). They killed me and I live again, talking to you and eating with you. If you can’t believe me on that evidence alone, you will never believe me.”
A wonderful Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, in his short poem “In Memory of my Mother” wrote of her, “…among your earthiest words the angels stray…”
We see angels present in another’s words and actions only when we want to. We see God present and speaking to us through Jesus only when we want to. The choice is always ours.
The words of today’s Gospel are spoken to us, just as surely as they were spoken to those who heard Jesus say them. Like Thomas and Philip and Peter and the others we, too, say, “…just show me and I’ll believe….” or “…I need to be certain….”. Just like them we, too, at times, run away in fear because following Jesus has a cost, and we, too, at times, deny that we are Christians by our actions or words. We may even, in sin, purposely and knowingly, move in a way contrary to the words and action of Jesus. When we do this, we betray the life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
I find it unbelievably comforting that the apostles themselves did all of these things before me … and they had the advantage (or maybe disadvantage?) of actually knowing him as a man.
Far from pretending that they didn’t have doubts or that they needed certainty in order to believe, the Gospels are almost embarrassingly honest about their own human weaknesses.
Yet Jesus does not withdraw the beautiful, awesome words of the Gospel in light of their uncertainty. He says to them (and us), “Have I been with you all this time, and you still do not know me?” and then he repeats again, always gently, what he said. God being with us, in us, is not dependent on us accepting or even believing it. It is purely and simply who God is. God cannot, not love us!
That is why I cannot read this Gospel without my heart swelling with comfort and joy. It is also why I do believe, truly believe, the opening words of the Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me.”
“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house; if there were not, I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am
you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father too. From this moment you know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’ ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?
‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father, so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work. You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason. I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father.’
The Oblates are on social media:
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to email a link to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 24th 2023 | 25th Sunday in Ordinary...
Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 17th 2023 | 24th Sunday in Ordinary...
Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 10th 2023 | 23rd Sunday in Ordinary...
Gospel Reflection for Sunday September 3rd 2023 | 22nd Sunday in Ordinary...
Instead of starting on some dusty trail in northern Israel, amid the...
Gospel Reflection for Sunday August 20th 2023 | 20th Sunday in Ordinary...