04 May 2012

Permanently dwelling with the Father

4th Week of Easter (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus is saying a long goodbye to his disciples. He knows that his departure is causing them a great deal of anxiety. He tells them all that will happen to him in the next week or so: his betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, and execution. Knowing this, the disciples are not only worried for their Master but for themselves as well. Jesus tries to console his friends by assuring them that they will follow him on the Way. Always the worrier, Thomas asks, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This is a strange question given that Jesus had just said, “In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” Thomas' question is evidence of his anxiety, his fear. Basically, he's not thinking clearly, allowing his building grief to overwhelm his reason. Had he been paying more careful attention, or had he been a little less distraught, Thomas would've caught on to what Jesus was saying: there's more than enough in the Father's house, enough room for everyone who will follow me. 

The Greek word monai (μοναὶ) is variously translated into English as “mansions,” “rooms,” or “dwelling places.” All of these capture the basic idea that there are enough rooms in the Father's house for all who want to live there. Digging a bit deeper into the Greek word reveals a subtle connotation that the English words do not immediately translate: permanency; that is, monai means a permanent dwelling place, a room or house in which one resides for a long time. Digging even deeper, we discover that monai can also be used as a verb to mean “to live with permanently,” or “to dwell with over time.” So, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I'm going to prepare a permanent place for you to live in my Father's house and there you will dwell permanently.” Both the place and the living there are permanent. Why is this important? Think about Jesus' ministry and the nomadic culture he ministered to—shepherds, fishermen, soldiers, merchants, all people who were used to roaming about, pulling up stakes and heading off to the next town. Jesus himself wandered the countryside with his disciples, coming and going whenever the Spirit moved him. Now, at the end, he's telling his friends that he's leaving again. This time without them! What better way to console their grief at his departure than to assure them that not only is he coming back to get them but also that he is taking them to a permanent place to dwell? 

The monai of the Father's house are not tents nor are they rented rooms or sleeping bags. They are mansions for family members, suites for sons and daughters who live from now on with the Father. We often refer to ourselves as a Pilgrim People; a nation of priests, prophets, and kings on a pilgrimage from the darkness of sin to the brightness of freedom. Along the way we suffer, rejoice, prosper, fail but at the last, in the end, if we endure the pilgrimage, we arrive at our appointed place, our inheritance as children of God: a permanent dwelling with the Father. Some will dismiss this promise as “pie in the sky by-and-by,” just a way to keep us in line while evil rules. But we know that our Lord never promised us a comfy ride; he never promised us that our pilgrimage following him would be smooth and easy. All that he ever promised us is that he would be with us always, no matter how rough it got, no matter how desperate the situation—he is with us always. With Christ along for the ride, nothing can defeat us. We know that there is a permanent dwelling place for us in the house of the Father.

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