The first part of today’s gospel is very familiar to us as a passage often used at funerals to offer hope and consolation to the bereaved. It has the ring and tone of assurance that our beloved dead surely live on in another way.
In its context as part of the Last Supper Discourse in the Gospel of John, it seems to be offering that same consolation to the disciples. Jesus has been doing and saying some strange things, washing their feet, speaking of betrayal, of glory and of going some place where they cannot go. Their distress is evident and Jesus seems to be offering them assurance that he is going to prepare a place for them, but he will return and take them to that prepared dwelling place. Then they will be with him where he is, because they already know the way.
Thomas is confused. He doesn’t know where Jesus is going, so how could he know the way. No doubt he expresses the confusion of the other disciples and our own confusion also. Jesus assures them that he is the way.
What are these many dwelling places of which Jesus speaks, these places to which Jesus is the way? Elsewhere in the discourse, Jesus speaks of his departure in a somewhat different manner. He says that he is going so that the Spirit can come. Jesus says that the Spirit comes to remain always. Can we assume then that these dwelling places are where the Spirit dwells, the abode of God?
Jesus’ words are generally directed not to the after life but the present life. The path to be followed leads to the abode of God, of which there are many forms. But there is one way, through Jesus. This path that Jesus took was not smooth. It led him through the thickets of rejection, doubt and death. It led him through the sunshine moments of healing, teaching, bringing comfort and hope to the “sheep without shepherds.” It was the narrow road of which he spoke that led to the freedom of life. The path must pass through the inner core of the self where the Spirit abides, meeting the many challenges and obstacles that are present on the way. Such a path, journey and destination is available for all.
As we journey through the inner core of soul, Jesus is the Way. As we face the reality of our own being, Jesus is the Truth, and in all we encounter on the journey, Jesus is the Life. And both the journey and the destination is our dwelling place, prepared for us by Jesus. It is nothing less than the abode of God.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP