May 15, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter on May 14, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; and John 14:1-12.
For the next two weeks, we’ll hear from Jesus’ farewell discourse at the Last Supper according to John. At first glance, this passage can seem daunting. It’s repetitive. The logical flow is confusing. The verb tenses don’t match. However, that is to view a first-century, Middle-Eastern, poetic passage through a 21st-century, Western, scientific lens.
The Last Supper is the high point of John’s gospel. He dedicates 5 chapters to it, compared to 2 chapters each for the Passion and the Resurrection. This speech is Jesus’ last will and testament and also his instructions to his disciples for the future. Verses 6 and 7 of our passage today are widely considered by theologians to be the apex of John’s theology.
Through our baptism, we became part of the Body of the Christ. And through Jesus Christ, we come to know the Father. Let us recall the gift of our baptism!
Jesus Christ was both truly human and truly God. When we wrap our heads around that, we begin to speculate: what did Jesus know about the Father’s plans for him, and when did he know it?
I imagine that Jesus knew that his Father wanted him to be obedient to the point of death – realizing that it would be a painful, lonely, and gruesome journey – and that somehow this would bring about the salvation of the world. But I wonder if he knew what would happen to his human body after he died. He predicted that the Son of Man would rise again on the third day, but did he understand the totality of what that meant for him and his relationships with the people he loved?
At the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, it’s clear that Jesus knows that he has come into his “hour.” He knows that the forces of evil are gathering and that he will glorify the Father. In chapters 14, 15, and 16, he sums up all that he has taught for the past three years, what will happen to him and through him in the next three days, and what the disciples are to do until the end of the messianic age. That’s a lot to cram into one after-dinner speech!
In January, Pope Francis called for a Synod in 2018 on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” At the same time, Pope Francis released a letter to young people asking for their participation and input in the process, saying: “The Church … wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism.” The Diocese of Austin has a very nice online questionnaire available at austindiocese.org/synod, with different questions for Catholic young people, for non-Catholic young people, and for parents and ministers. In case you’re wondering, the Diocese of Austin is defining “young people” as anyone between the ages of 16 and 39.
When we speak of the Last Supper, we usually speak about what Jesus does. Or we talk about what he says. But perhaps that’s missing the most important point. Whatever happened at the Last Supper, the earliest Christians celebrated their faith by gathering for a meal that was somehow based on it. Why?
Perhaps John is using dramatic irony to point it out to us, by showing us how the disciples misunderstand what Jesus is saying. Jesus tells them that they must have their feet washed to have a share with him. Peter presumes that having his hands and head washed, too, will lead to having a greater share. Jesus says that he is preparing a dwelling place for them. Thomas asks where it is and how to get there. Jesus declares that they have seen the Father. Philip asks him to show them the Father.
The Last Supper isn’t primarily about what Jesus said. And as Peter, Thomas, and Philip demonstrate, it’s not about what Jesus did, where he went, or what he showed them.
It’s about relationships. Jesus revealed to the disciples – and to all of us – that we have an intimate relationship with God. Our washing of one another’s feet is not about getting clean. It’s about bringing us into a more intimate relationship with one another. Jesus’ preparing of a dwelling place for us is not about Jesus securing a good spot for each of us in heaven. It’s about Jesus bringing us into a more intimate relationship with the Father.
As you can imagine, I wrote some very long answers to the Diocese of Austin survey for the 2018 Synod on Young People. In my responses to the questions, I came back again and again to the main thing that I believe young adults are seeking from the Church: relationships. We are all longing for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. For a lot of college students and other young adults, that starts with having a sense of belonging when they walk into a church building. If they want to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it’s a lot easier if they have a personal relationship with their local church, the Body of Christ. The most important aspect of young adult ministry is not about teaching the finer points of theology or giving them apologetic retorts to questioning co-workers.
It’s not about what we say. It’s not about what we offer to do. It’s about our relationships with young adults. As long as we focus on that, it doesn’t matter where the conversations lead us. The important thing is that if they need help building a relationship with Jesus Christ, they’ll know that they can turn to us for caring, compassionate friends on the journey.
Why the jumble of verb tenses in Jesus’s farewell discourse? Because it’s kairos time – a time set apart, a time when the past and the future merge with the present. When we gather for the Eucharist, we enter into kairos. Our Eucharist deepens our relationship with those gathered here, with those who have come before us, and with those who will come after us. Our Eucharist deepens our relationship with Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever. And through that deepening of our relationship with Jesus Christ, we come to better know the Father.