Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled
I took my first Scripture course twelve years ago. It was The Gospel of Mark with Paul Danove. The class was unforgettable, both because of my professor’s uncontested ease with the text and for his abounding kindness. The misguided mess that was my novice attempt at exegesis was met with great forgiveness, and I’m still grateful for that chance to get it right the second (or third or fourth) time around.
Among the technical lessons covered in the class was a literary device used primarily by the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. At the risk of obscuring the nuances of the Gospels, each uses the disciples’ apparent lack of understanding to teach the audience about Christian discipleship. Simply put, the disciples are bunglers. They often misunderstand Jesus, whether it be his words or his actions or his identity. At the same time, there are moments when their lives shine with abundant grace. While it is hard to forget Jesus’ harsh rebuke of Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” we also know that he is the rock on which Jesus built his Church. The mistakes he and the disciples make on their journeys are often overshadowed by God’s generosity.
This mixture of befuddlement and illumination should communicate something to us. The ineptitude of Jesus’ friends and followers show us that imperfection is woven into the model for the Christian life. It is filled with failures, and that’s okay. Much like that first assignment I had as an undergraduate, lack of understanding is met with the opportunity to grow and learn in love. No one begins class as an expert. Rather, we are asked to respond to the call to follow and, God willing, never be the same.
This Sunday’s Gospel is the beginning of the Last Supper Discourse. The disciples are speaking with Jesus at a troubling time when he knows he will soon say goodbye to his friends. At one point in the conversation, missing the tone entirely, Philip requests a theophany from Jesus. “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus’ response feels personal. “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?” It is a question born of relationship and of friendship. It is also one of context. Only moments earlier, Jesus replies to another disciple, Thomas, in a way that identifies Jesus’ primacy with the Father. “I AM”, he says, recalling God’s conversation with Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Jesus then adds, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” The directness of his nearness to God is definitive, and yet Philip continues to question. Like the Israelites pushing Moses for a sign from God, he instead asks for more from God incarnate. But despite the doubt or confusion or simply the lack of faith expressed in the person of Philip, Jesus never stops extending his hand. It is in his response to his friend whom he loves that we encounter the Father.
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” As their conversation continues and the disciples question him, Jesus doesn’t rescind his offer. The wide net he cast welcoming people to follow him remains afloat. There is still room for you, friend. A place has been set aside and prepared. Jesus’ second response to Philip’s unbelief is one of assurance. He tells us that anyone who has seen Jesus has already seen the Father. Philip, don’t worry. What you ask for you’ve already been given. It is precisely in this reaction that we witness God’s love for us. That Love is reiterated in Jesus’ words both at the beginning and end John 14. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. As the night comes to a close, he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Jesus knows that fear and doubt go hand in hand. He does not give up on the disciples, but rather continues to encourage them to believe throughout the entire dialogue.
I love the two tiny humans we’ve welcomed into our home these past few years, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exasperated by questions or decisions they make every now and again. Just tonight, before I sat down to write this, Lucy refused my help with a kind of stubbornness I’ve only ever seen in myself. How dare I ask to wash her hands. The audacity I must possess to remove a splinter she got while we were walking in Pine Park that morning.
My kids also repeat behaviors, both good and bad, like any other child learning to navigate the world. They are all ways of mastering concepts, but some are more endearing than others:
Connor, are you a puppy or a human? Please do not eat Rey’s dog food.
Lucy, why are your lights on? It’s 9:45. Even Fr. Brendan has gone to bed by now. I love that you enjoy reading but please put the book away.
Through everything, Shawn and I have learned to carefully respond to mistakes — accidental or otherwise — with compassion. It’s tempting to let correction be self-serving, especially after a long day. But reacting with openness is the best way we can mirror the love that God has for each one of his children. It’s what I see Jesus doing with Philip in this dialogue. Yes, the humanizing feeling of frustration is present in Jesus at the dinner, but it is accompanied by the patience and love we are capable of only through God.
May God bless our moms this Mother’s Day, and all women who have revealed God’s love to us.
Meg Costantini, M. Div. | Campus Minister at Aquinas House