Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9, John 14:1-12
On the Gospel, Fear and Its Remedy
Five-year old Johnny is in the kitchen with his mother who is preparing supper. She asks him to go to the basement and fetch her a can of tomato soup. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared,” replies Johnny. The mother tries to convince him it is safe to go alone to the basement but without much success. Finally she says “It’s all right, Johnny, Jesus will be in there with you.” Johnny walks hesitantly to the door and slowly opens it. He peeps inside, sees that it is still dark in there, and starts to go back. Then, suddenly he gets an idea. He opens the basement door a little and yells: “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me a can of tomato soup, please?”
Johnny’s fear is similar to the fear of the disciples as the time draws near for Jesus to leave them. They are afraid to face the world alone. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus does pretty much what Johnny’s mother tried to do, namely, convince the disciples that there is no need to be afraid, even when he is not there with them.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1a). The Greek text shows that the disciples are already afraid and Jesus is asking them here to master their fears. What reason does Jesus give them? It is both simple and profound: “You believe in God, believe also in me” (14:1b). It is easy to believe in God, a spiritual being that we cannot see. The challenge is to believe in ordinary, flesh-and-blood human beings whom we know all too well already. The challenge is to believe in the incarnation, that the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God is present and active in ordinary human beings who are often lacking in knowledge, in love, and in moral strength. You believe in God (that is the easy part), believe also in me, a presumably frail human being (that is the hard part).
The disciples see God in Jesus. So long as he is around, there is no fear. But they do not see God in their fellow disciples. They are just too human, subject to the shortcomings and weaknesses of ordinary mortals. The disciples set Jesus apart. They put him on a different platform from themselves. It is interesting to note that all the reasoning that Jesus offers to persuade them not to fear is pitched on the exact opposite camp. Jesus is trying to convince them that if God could work through him, Jesus, then God could as well work through any other human being. Jesus places himself on the same platform with them so as to make them believe that God can use them and work through them in spite of their human deficiencies. In fact, in order to drive home this point, Jesus even goes as far as placing the disciples on a higher platform than himself as people through whom God can work: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father” (verse 12).
Today, many of us are like Philip; our prayer is, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (verse 8). Show us that God is with us in the church. Show us that God is alive and actively involved in events in our world today. What does Jesus answer? “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’” (verse 9) when God is so deeply involved in the events and crises of the church and of the world. You see, the incarnation (God becoming flesh) has removed the wall of division between the divine and the human. The history of God and the history of humanity have become inextricably intertwined. The story of the kingdom of God, which Jesus came to inaugurate, cannot be told apart from the story of the church in the world. God took a risk when God decided to become human. Whether the divine risk will issue in success or failure is up to us.
When we see things happening in the church or in our world the way they should not, it is not time to blame God for abandoning us to our own whims and caprices. No, God is always with us. It is rather a time for serious soul searching, a time for us as individuals and as a church to ask ourselves: Where did we miss it? How can we get back on God’s track? What is God saying to us in these events and crises? We should not let our hearts be troubled. We believe in God, let us now believe in men and women made in the image and likeness of God.