‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’


‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’

JOHN 14: 1-12

As we journey deeper and deeper into the real meaning of Easter a thought struck me that I would like to share with you. I have often found myself reflecting on how wonderful it would have been to be present with Jesus when he spoke with his disciples. There are those moments in the gospels when Jesus becomes very intimate with them, when he opens his heart to the twelve by describing his relationship with his Father and how he desires that we share in that relationship too. There are other occasions when it becomes clear that Jesus not only knows the hidden depths of the disciples but he also knows the secret places of our hearts too. This can be the cause of great comfort and consolation when times are hard and this is exactly the point. We are not meant to stay in the darkness of the tomb, this is not the real meaning of Easter at all. No! Christ calls us out into the light and when we do feel that our lives have been broken and life has become too much to bare he simply says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.’ 

In his ‘Spiritual Exercises,’ Saint Ignatius of Loyola  encourages participants to engage in what he calls imaginative contemplation of the gospel scene. Take, for example, the gospel reading we are now reflecting on, John 14: 1-12, does it take place at night or during the day? Are Jesus and the disciples in a quiet place by themselves? Are they in doors or outside? How are they all dressed and what does each of the characters look like? To do this we need to read the whole of the gospel passage and then by using our imagination place ourselves directly in the scene. Let us say the whole incident takes place at night in the foothills, somewhere in Galilee. It is dark and there is a small fire around which Jesus and his disciples are gathered, now place yourself alongside the twelve and allow yourself to be absorbed into the scene. The night is chilly and the small fire, as it burns, crackles and spits throwing out a warm and gentle heat, which you can feel on your face. Perhaps the disciples are a little subdued and so are you, everyone is feeling down and troubled and there is an atmosphere of tension. Look at the faces of the twelve, eavesdrop on their conversation, what are they saying? Why are they so afraid? Then you pick up on something, which literally grabs your attention. One of them mentions something that they all have been thinking but were too afraid to ask and that is, Jesus is going to leave them and it will be soon. This is why there is uneasiness about the disciples. They had been with Jesus for a little over two years now. He had been their constant companion and the source of their faith. It was for him that they had literally dropped everything, home, family and employment. If then Jesus was to leave them, what were they to do because without him they would be lost? Can you experience their anxiety at this point and make it your own? Can you imagine what life would have been like for the disciples without Jesus? Perhaps as you read this you feel distant from Jesus too, as if he is absent, not present, in your life as well? It is really important, at this stage, to recognise and value our own experiences of life and faith, whether they are positive or negative. Because this then makes us one with the disciples as they gathered around the flames of that tiny fire with Jesus still in their midst. All of them are on the edge of, perhaps, being overwhelmed by a great sadness at the thought of Jesus not being with them anymore.

Now we have to focus our attention on Jesus. Look at his face, what does he look like? His eyes are moving from one disciple to the next as he picks up on exactly how they are feeling. Then his eyes focus exclusively on you and you become aware that he knows, in the most intimate detail, all of your concerns, worries and anxieties. How does this make you feel now? It is at this point that, somehow, you know that Jesus understands the fears of all those present, including you. That he knows they fear being parted from him and so he wants to reassure them by speaking directly to their hearts, ‘Do no let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’ What does his voice sound like and how does it make you feel? Stay with this for a while and imagine Jesus is talking directly to you. His wish is to reassure you bringing comfort, consolation and hope.

What happens next borders on being unbelievable because the like of which has never been said before, ‘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.’  So Jesus is leaving them then, it is true, and all their anxieties were warranted. Death, it seems would take him from them and they would be left alone. Yet, Jesus is also, in these words, reassuring them and in turn us that not even death can destroy the bonds of love that have been made between them. Moreover, one day they will be together again!

Perhaps the disciples have not really been listening to what Jesus said. Instead on receiving confirmation that he will be leaving them they are on the edge of being completely overwhelmed by their fear. At the very least they are confused and fail to understand. Without Jesus what can they do? They had placed all their hope and all their trust him. He was the one who had inspired them and yet now, here he was, talking of leaving. It was impossible for them to imagine what life would be like for them without Jesus, their Lord and Master, in their midst. Have you ever experienced such feelings, the absence of God or the fear of the absence of God? It is perfectly acceptable to admit such anxiety, after all this is exactly why this gospel passage has come to us.

At  this point Thomas, on behalf of the twelve, speaks up and to do that he must be brutally honest, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know they way?’ This is exactly why, if we are to grow in our faith, then we must be totally honest too in the way we feel when it comes to our own worries and anxieties. Remember that growth in faith is something to be experienced from the inside out and here we have living proof of that process in action. Thomas is simply telling it straight, something, which comes from the inside and represents how all of the disciples are actually feeling at that point, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’

What Jesus says next is both astounding and stunning, to say the least, and should make the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, ‘I am the Way, The Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’  In other words it is through Jesus that you will experience the Father and it is by following him that you will be led to the Father. Only then by following in the footsteps of Jesus will you find both Truth and Life. Jesus will lead the way, we are invited to follow and our destination is the Father.

At this point it is Philip who speaks up, perhaps reflecting confusion as to what exactly Jesus means by the Father. After all we need to keep in mind that for the Jew and remember Jesus and all his disciples were Jews, God was the supreme creator of everything and sustained the entire universe and all things in it. So with this in mind Philip says, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’ It is in reply to this question that Jesus leaves no room for ambiguity as to his true identity because his words are stunning and breath taking,

‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip and you still do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father.’

At this point Jesus is inviting the twelve to put everything together, the entire time they have been with one another and see, perhaps for the very first time who Jesus actually is. His life of pure goodness, his mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love for all people but especially for the rejected, despised, unwanted and unloved. All this, his words and all his actions have made the Father visible for all too see. This is because the Father is the source of all that is good and therefore of all love and this is what Jesus came to reveal, because in him is to be found nothing less than the reality of God, ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’

At Easter Jesus beckons us out of the tomb, ‘do not stay in the darkness,’ and calls us into the light. However, he knows full well that we can be fearful so he says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, trust in God still and trust in me.’ In the world he invites us to walk in his footsteps so that others may see the light of his love in us. Dedicated to him and enlivened by his Holy Spirit we are called to live lives that show something of his mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love for all people but especially those who are rejected, despised, unwanted and unloved. To strengthen and sustain us on our journey he gently tells us, ‘I am going to prepare a place for you……. In my Father’s house …… so that where I am you may be too.’ His final parting gift for us, is to never forget a truth written deep into our hearts, ‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father.’

Easter then is the great Christian feast, which marks the change and therefore the transformation of everything. It leaves no doubt as to whom Jesus is but the truth of the resurrection must live in us too. In the gospel passage we have just explored Jesus essentially tells us, not to be afraid but to place all our hope and all our trust in him. By staying close to Christ, by loving and serving those in need, others might just be able to catch a glimpse of the resurrected Christ in us because he and therefore the Father is the source of all that is good.