4th Week of Easter (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
SS. Domenico e Sisto, Roma
Jesus puts to rest any question about the source and summit of our salvation, any question about the only means available for achieving a face-to-face audience with God the Father: “Whoever believes in me…whoever sees me…everyone who believes in me…anyone who hears my words…whoever rejects me…does not accept my words…I did not speak on my own…the Father who sent me commanded me…what I say, I say as the Father told me.” There can be no question that Jesus himself is the exclusive path to our redemption; he is the only salvific show in town. If we want to spend a little more time unpacking this teaching, we can note the passion with which Jesus teaches. John writes that Jesus “cried out and said.” We can note that Jesus explicitly says that he and the Father are one; that believing in him is the same as believing in the Father; that as the Word sent by the Father, accepting or rejecting his words determines one's place in the light or one's condemnation to the darkness. We can note that Jesus says he is teaching nothing more or less than what his Father has told him to teach; and we can note that he makes this startling claim: “I know that [the Father's] commandment is eternal life.” If the Father's commandment is eternal life, why must we believe in Jesus? Isn't it enough that God has commanded us to live with Him in eternity? It would seem that God's commandment can be thwarted by our refusal to believe.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that we want to refuse to obey God's commandment of eternal life. How would we go about about doing this? Jesus points out two ways to be disobedient: 1). we can hear his words, accept them, but fail to observe them, or 2). we can hear his words and reject them. When we hear his word but fail to live them, we are not condemned because, as Jesus says, “. . .I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.” When we hear his words and reject them, we condemn ourselves according to his word; that is, his words stand as our judge and we are condemned to darkness because the Father, Jesus, and his words are all one. Lest we think that we can hear his words, accept them, fail to obey, and then escape the consequences, we must remember that God commands us to enjoy eternal life. Jesus says that he will not judge our disobedience. Why? Because our refusal to live out the words we have heard and accepted is itself a judgment, and we remain in darkness despite having glimpsed the light. There is nothing more he needs to do than to allow us to live in the eternal night we have chosen for ourselves.
Why would anyone, having heard and accepted his words and knowing that God has commanded us to live eternal lives, why would anyone see the light of Christ and choose the darkness of disobedience? Well, there's the false sense of freedom that comes with making such a choice. There's the inordinate love of the transient things of this world. There's the desire to indulge our destructive passions—anger, revenge, hatred, greed. And then there's the obstinate refusal to believe, the persistence of voluntary doubt—willful disbelief. Like the child who closes her eyes and believes she is invisible because she cannot see, we choose darkness because we believe it hides us, protects us from judgment, nurtures our liberty. In fact, we are never more in danger than when we walk after dark.
Jesus speaks these words of hope: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” Though we may foolishly choose eternal night, we do not have to remain there. His coming among us is the dawn of salvation, our eternal healing from all the wounds that would drive us into hiding. All we need do is accept the medicine of his words and follow behind him, doing right now everything he did back then.