This gospel reading is preparing us for what is coming: celebrations of Ascension and Pentecost. This is why we might call this “Goodbye Sunday.” Jesus talks of leaving this world so that even greater works can be accomplished. But to the disciples this does not come across as a cheerful message. Jesus will be leaving so how can things be better?! The answer Jesus gives is that he will send the Holy Spirit, and in the power of that Spirit his work will pervade the entire world.
Affection is evident in the exchange between Jesus with Thomas and Philip. There is no rebuke or even disappointment in his tone as Jesus encourages Philip one more time to recognize him as the manifestation of the Father’s love. He asks Philip, “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” He is asking us the same question. If we really believe that Jesus is the way and the Truth and the Life, then we will find fresh and creative ways to keep alive his memory. We will work to create safe, secure, happy, peaceful places for one another so we can undertake the really important work of keeping our priorities straight. Now it is our duty to lead the people whose lives we touch. That’s what the sub-heading on our stationery promises: “Touching lives through prayer and service”. This is the great challenge of transformation that enables us to respond to the needs of others with the compassion of Christ. Note: we do not pledge with compassion like Jesus would show; but with the very compassion of Christ.
Jesus asks us the same question he posed to Philip: “You still do not know me?” Jesus continues by repeating what he has said before: “The Father and I are one.” Like Philip, we all tend to repeatedly ask the same similar question hoping for a clearer explanation. The simple (and awesome) message we get in the Gospel exchange is that if we want to know what God is like, we must look at Jesus. We must look at his life, ministry, words, death, resurrection and ascension. If only we open our eyes, our spiritual eyes and heart, the Holy Spirit will enable us to have the kind of vision we need.
Nothing can take the sadness out of the encounter spoken of in the Gospel. Jesus is about to leave the company of friends with whom he has been through so much. But there is consolation even in the sadness. We all know the pain of departure from loved ones – family, community members, friends – through death or the separation by distance caused by job or living circumstances. Jesus’ consoling words support us in our pain, give us reason for hope and spur us forward with renewed faith. We live assured that a time is coming when there will be no more pain of separation, only the joy of reunion in eternity.
By the time Rose Kennedy was age 93, she had been hit by tragedies again and again. Four of her nine children had died violently and her husband’s rather unscrupulous life had been told and retold in the press. A reporter had asked her about all this. Rose answered, slowly: “I have always believed that God never gives us a cross to bear larger than we can carry. And I have always believed that, no matter what, God wants us to be happy. He doesn’t want us to be sad. Birds sing after a storm,” she said, “Why shouldn’t we?”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB