4th Week of Easter (S): Acts 13.44-52 and John 14.7-14
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
If I were to ask you whether or not you “know the Lord,” I wonder what you would say. Being good Catholics, I hope you would all say with some enthusiasm and joy, “Yes, of course,” but my naturally suspicious mind nags me with the probability that at least a large few of you would ask me in return, “What do you mean by ‘know the Lord’?” Jesus says, “Remain in my word and I will remain in you.”
Both Thomas yesterday and Philip today join you in your insistence on having a clearer idea of what it means to “know Christ.” Thomas is worried about what it means for Jesus to be our destination. He is also worried about it means for Jesus to be the Way to Jesus the Destination. Philip presses the Lord for a more empirical demonstration of his claim that “if you know me, then you will also know my Father.” Philip says, in essence, “Good to know, Lord…now, show me the Father…” Our Lord’s esoteric response to Thomas—“I am the way, the truth, and the life”—and his pointed rebuke of Philip—“Have I been with you for so long, Philip, and you still don’t know me?’—both of these responses from Jesus to questions about his identity seem to me to glide over his disciples’ central worry: who do you, Lord, want us to be for you?
Now, of course, our Lord is perfectly aware that his disciples are anxious about their identity as his followers. They’ve been worried about this from the beginning and the question reaches critical mass in the garden when they scurry like rats, denying that they know him at all! So, if the Lord knows this worry, why does he seem to be deflecting the real question in favor of answering secondary (or even tertiary!) questions about who he really is? Here’s my best guess: the disciples, like any of us, must come freely to the Father through Christ in response to His invitation to live with Him forever; and they must come in humble trust to accept, like any of us, that following Christ to heaven means following him first through the desert, on to Jerusalem, up the Upper Room, into the Garden, before Pilate, up on the Cross at Golgotha, and down into Tomb; like any of us, the disciples must come to know Jesus as both a Way and as a Truth, in other words, they must come to know him as the only Means to Perfection (the Way) and as the only Eternal Given (the Truth).
Since the disciples must freely respond to the Father’s gift of faith and they must follow Jesus in his passion and death and they must come to know Christ as both Perfection Himself and the Way to That Perfection; then, it is reasonable to posit that Jesus will tell them who he is for them and how to reach him but leave unanswered precisely who it is he wants them to be. Christ needs freed men and women, filled with the Spirit of charity, flooding the cities and nations to do his work. He does not need or want factory produced replicas, assembly line Jesus-Barbies or Preach-It-Elmos, marching lock-step, shouting bumper sticker platitudes at unrepentant sinners. He needs and wants witnesses to the Father’s renovating grace, His superlative love. He wants and needs prophets who lay claim to the power of the Word to shape the human heart into a tabernacle worthy of His Presence.
He wants you, freely given, to know him as the Truth and to seek him on the Way; to believe in him and to do now the works that he did then; he wants you to live in him as he lives in the Father and to ask of him what you need so that he can give it to you. He wants you, freely given, to be a light for the darkness; to be a holy silence for the world’s racket; to be a Word of grace for the fallen; and he wants you to come to know him by becoming him.
What do we mean by “know the Lord”? We mean “know Christ by being Christ right where you are.” Remain in his Word and he will remain in you.