“I don’t get it.”
The child sits there quite sullenly, math homework strewn across the kitchen table.
“Yes you do,” Mom says encouragingly. Remember when we laid out thirty straws, and how you put them in groups of ten, and when there were three groups of ten there were thirty straws? Which means that three times ten equals what?”
We’ve all been here, right? Either as the parent or the child, we’re all familiar with times when we realize what we’ve been learning, even when we didn’t understand it all. Then you have a teacher come along who puts it all in perspective for you.
Sometimes the teacher gets ahead of him/herself and tries to explain more than is called for…I think that’s what Jesus does for Thomas and Philip and the others in John 14, and I imagine that readers of John centuries later still have those learning moments followed by even more confusion.
Jesus lets the disciples in on what is going to go down in the not too distant future; to say the least, they’re disappointed. So he begins to comfort them—with a heavy helping of him-ology…or would that be him-nody?
Not what I would’ve chosen to say, but then again, I’m not Jesus.
“Believe in God and in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. I go to prepare one for you, and I will take you to myself so that you may be with me. You know the way” (my own paraphrase).
“But if we don’t know where you’re going,” Thomas says, “how could we know the way.”
“Don’t you get it Thomas? I am the way…and the truth…and the LIFE. I’m the living example of both God and the way to God. I’m both the gate and the shepherd. By knowing me, you know God. You know God and see God.”
Makes sense, right? Thomas has seen the thirty straws, he’s sorted them into three groups of ten, and he understands multiplication…but is everyone on board?
“Jesus, just show us God and we’ll be satisfied,” Philip says, probably causing Jesus to pop a neck vein and break out in hives.
“What, you don’t know me, Philip? I tell you that you know God because you know me, and you ask me to see God? One of these days you either need to be good with my words or with my actions…or both…I don’t know what else I can do for you…well, except what I’m going to do soon for all of humanity.”
Based on the chapters that follow, the immense confusion of the disciples, and the tragedies surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples still have a lot of learning to do.
So do we.
We are all on a path of maturing spirituality—a developing relationship with God. Not one of us remains in one place for long. Sometimes we walk on this path with others; sometimes we walk alone. Sometimes we feel quite distant; sometimes we feel we’ve already reached the “end.” But really all of us are that child, sitting at the kitchen table trying to compile what we’ve experienced into concepts that help us to deepen our learning.
Perhaps one thing we can pull from this scene in John is a little bit of Jesus’ patience—patience with ourselves and patience with others. Much of the dialogue regarding religious/spiritual matters is fraught with so much condescension—the sense that your spirituality is a failed attempt at reaching my spirituality (or vice versa).
None of us know the ultimate truth of anything, but we can demonstrate how deepening our search and desire for Truth is a rewarding and important search. We can demonstrate how that search is best pursued when it is done with a sense of solidarity with our fellow brothers and sisters in creation.
Jesus tells Thomas, Philip, and the others that he is the Truth, and the Way, and the Light. If you’re reading this, you probably are at least willing to flirt with the possibility that he was right. Whether or not that is the case, consider what it would mean for that to be true. What could it mean for your spiritual life? What could it mean for our world?
We’re all learning together.
The Rev’d Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. He offers reflections on the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday. His website is www.FatherFarr.com, and his Tumblr blog is www.BowingToMystery.com.
Photo: Many Colored Straws Thrown On Top of Each Other by Horia Varlan is licensed by CC BY 2.0
A member of St. James's, Mayrita, was the inspiration for the child/straw example. Thank you, Mayrita!