No Man Cometh to the Father, but by Me
Gospel Reflection for May 7, 2023, the Fifth Sunday of Easter - John 14:1-12
Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I shall go, and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to myself; that where I am, you also may be.
And whither I go you know, and the way you know.
Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.
If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and from henceforth you shall know him, and you have seen him.
Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us.
Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou, shew us the Father?
Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works.
Believe you not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?
Otherwise believe for the very works' sake. Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do. (John 14:1-12 DRA)
The Gospel reading for this Sunday, which includes one of the clearest statements of Christ’s divinity and the revelation of God as Trinity in Scripture, consists of two general themes: Christ’s relation to the Father, and His mission of preparing mansions for His disciples in Heaven. The second point depends on the first, and so Christ opens the passage by identifying Himself with God. This is the very heart of Christian faith and the greatest mystery of the Gospel: that God is three Persons of one divine substance, one God in three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity remains as hard to grasp today as it did for Jesus’s first disciples (hence its endless appeal), yet the challenges of heretics have helped the Church, especially in the earliest councils, to explain it correctly. St. Philip, despite following Christ throughout His ministry, still lacked full understanding of this great truth, and Christ answered him with patience: “Our Lord consoles His disciples, who, as men, would be naturally alarmed and troubled at the idea of His death, by assuring them of His divinity: Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me; as if they must believe in Him, if they believed in God; which would not follow, unless Christ were God.” (St. Augustine, Catena Aurea)
To see and know Christ is to see and know the Father and the Holy Spirit; all are equally God, not separate gods or mere facets of one person but distinct Persons differentiated by origin within the Godhead. As Hilary clarifies: “But the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father, not by a conjunction of two harmonizing essences, nor by a nature grafted into a more capacious substance as in material bodies, in which it is impossible that what is within can be made external to that which contains it; but by the birth of a nature which is life from life; forasmuch as from God nothing but God can be born.” (Catena Aurea)
From this apocalyptic unveiling of Christ’s true nature, His singular personhood as the Son of God who has assumed a human nature for our divinization, His mission can be better understood. As St. Peter said in the Epistle, Christ, the living cornerstone of the New Jerusalem that is the Church, is the head, whose Body consists of Christians who are the living stones of this new Temple. The “mansions” which Christ prepares are thus each individual Christian, as St. Augustine explains: “Indeed, when He says, In My Father’s house are many mansions, what think we the house of God to be but the temple of God, of which the Apostle saith, The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. (1 Cor. 3:17) This house of God then is now being built, now being prepared. (c. 3.). But why has He gone away to prepare it, if it is ourselves that He prepares: if He leaves us, how can He prepare us? The meaning is, that, in order that those mansions may be prepared, the just must live by faith: and if thou seest, there is no faith. Let Him go away then, that He be not seen; let Him be hid, that He be believed.” (Catena Aurea)
Just as people in this life are essentially equal but accidentally unequal, whose hierarchy of goods gives greater glory to God as it does in nature, so are the saints diversified in holiness – not that God loves some more than others, but that, through the degree of self-emptying charity in their lives, some have been made, by grace, more receptive to God than others, and so the Church has always understood that these mansions represent an hierarchy of glory: “For though one man is bolder, wiser, juster, holier than another, yet no one shall be removed from that house of God, but each receive a mansion suited to his deserts... But there may be many mansions, many degrees of dignity, in that life, corresponding to people’s deserts.” (St. Augustine, Catena Aurea)
Through this eschatology, Christ offers a subtler kind of Transfiguration: He is revealed as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the path to the Father and the Word of salvation by our divinization into His likeness. As the new Moses, He has come not only that we may have abundant life, but to reveal the face of His Father that we may become one with Him. (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth) This is the joy of man’s desiring, the aspiration of all pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty throughout human history, in all religions, philosophies and the ordinary struggles of a virtuous life. It is also the envy of the Devil, a possible motivation for his damnation, and it is this hatred which leads the world to seduce people away from the Faith by the disordering of lower, worldly goods above the only source of true happiness in Christ. The way to true happiness thus consists in the imitation of Christ, being prepared for our mansions by sanctification through the grace of the Sacraments and a unity of interior contemplation and exterior works, in prayer and charity, loving God above all things and all things for God: “When thou art engaged in the practical, He is made thy way; when in the contemplative, He is made thy truth. And to the active and the contemplative is joined life: for we should both act and contemplate with reference to the world to come.” (Theophylact, Catena Aurea) In this way, just as the Mystical Body of Christ surpassed His earthly ministry in miracles and the conversion of the Gentiles, so can Christ today through His Church be the light of the world in the darkness of godlessness.