Acts 6, 1-17 + Psalm 33 + 1 Peter 2, 4-9 + John 14, 1-12
If I were to ask each of you which of the commandments gives you the most trouble and is the greatest challenge, I suspect it would be an interesting list that would include do not lie which is a great test for us all tempted as we are day by day to twist the truth and hide behind a lie. I am sure that do not covet would be on that list because of the materialistic consumer society in which we find ourselves. There is no way to escape that temptation for anyone watches even thirty minutes of television. There is another commandment however that ought to be there if you have not already thought of it, and it comes out of today’s Gospel. It is certainly a commandment that gives me a lot of challenge: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” In a world where terrorism and economic instability is in the news every day, and where job security means nothing because profitability is the driving force behind every management decision, there is plenty to worry about. Yet, the commandment is clear and forceful: Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus says this to a people who have every reason to be troubled. They are anxious and they are worried. He is saying other things to them that are deeply troubling. They have left all to follow him, and he has just told them that he is leaving. “I am going away” he says. Then he adds: “But I will not leave you.” What in the world does that mean? How can anyone go away and not leave? They are struggling not only to understand this, but to believe in someone who keeps getting into trouble and then talks of go away. Their questions betray their concern and anxiety. “Where are you going?” “How can we know the way?” “Show us the Father!” they cry out.
Being lost is one of the great occasions that stirs up anxiety, especially if you are in a hurry. Several years ago I was leading a group of pilgrims from Oklahoma to the birthplace of our first Bishop in Belgium. For months, the pastor of the tiny parish far out in the rural area of western Belgium had been working with me to create a wonderful experience commemorating the Bishop’s return to his home after being named the first Bishop of the Indian Territory. The local mayor was to welcome us. There was going to be a band that would lead us from the City Hall to the Church where we would celebrate Mass with the Bishop’s ancestors and the people of the tiny village. Far off the beaten path, the village is simply a cross road in web of tiny narrow roads that come from nowhere in particular and go nowhere in particular. We were in a very large tour bus, and we were getting late because there is no such thing as a map of those roads, and there are certainly no signs. The only people on those roads live there, and they know where they are going and where they have come from. It is a matter of knowing the landmarks; but to people from Oklahoma and even the bus driver, every farm house looks alike. As the time of our arrival grew near, my anxiety was over the top, and the bus driver was uncomfortable for me, and because the bus was wider than the road he was even more anxious. It was a Sunday morning. No one was out – they were probably all at the church waiting for us. With minutes to spare, we came upon a man who was walking a small dog along the road. Quite surprised to see such a large bus on such a small road, he stopped in amazement. I got out and with many hand signals and broken French and Flemish words he began to give directions that went something like this: go to the left a little way and then turn left. After a while turn right and go past a couple of farms until you can turn right again and should see the church tower to the right or to the left. The look on my face said it all. He looked at the bus, then at me, shrugged, picked up the dog, and said: “Follow me.” He got on a tractor and led us to the church. We were late; but we got there.
This experience comes to mind often when I hear Jesus say: “Follow me.” It comes to mind again when I read Thomas’ anxious interruption: “We don’t know the way.” The only way to the Father’s House is to follow the one who leads and is himself, “the way.” There was a moment in my meeting with that farmer in Belgium when he looked at the bus and realized we were Americans. I could see it on his face. While I wondered for a brief moment why he wasn’t at the church with everyone else, there was not a moment’s hesitation when it came to following him. He knew the truth, and we followed.
As Jesus speaks to Peter, Thomas, and Phillip they suddenly came to see the Truth of who He was and where he would take them. For those who have not seen the Truth and followed the Way, there is no understanding much less interest in going to the Father’s House. To them it would seem that Jesus was leading them to Jerusalem and Calvary, but in fact, it is not death that he leads to, but to Life. So, as a church full of disciples, in spite of the temptation to be anxious and afraid, worried and concerned about many things, we hear John’s Gospel speak to us in this Easter season about the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To those who have not seen the Way, we must be the Way. For if having seen Jesus is to have seen the Father, then seeing us must be to see the risen Christ. In the very next verse not included into today’s proclamation, Jesus begins to speak with those words that mean, “Pay attention!” He says: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do and will do greater ones than these because I go to the Father.” It occurs to me then that even though Jesus does go away, this world is not left without him because his disciples remain to do his work until he returns. That understanding of our vocation and Christ’s expectation of us is enough to give us anxiety and plenty to worry about except for the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which we are soon to celebrate at Pentecost. For those gifts; for the courage, wisdom, and joy to set aside our anxiety, worries, and fears, we must pray.