"My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him. Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed. When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second Psalm, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you."
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
It was so good to hear our Pope say some months back that the doors of our church must be wide open and welcoming. This message is a fine antidote to any narrow, legalistic form of church, where the barriers to eucharistic communion were constantly reiterated. Today we can resonate to those Last Supper words of Jesus which are central to our faith: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." In some mysterious way, to be seeking is already to be found, to be on the way is to have arrived, to be reaching out to Jesus means that we are being sought by him. He draws us even before we feel inclined to look for him. The flower is touched by sunlight before it turns toward the sun.
In the epistle Paul roams through the Hebrew Bible, beginning with the patriarchs and Moses and ending with John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus. Some of this was in yesterday's reading. Now, in the second half of his sermon at Pisidian Antioch, Paul directly addresses the situation of his hearers. He turns from the words of Scripture, inscribed in a book, to those same words as spoken by the living God. Everything in Scripture, he maintains, can be read in the light of Jesus who gives each statement its full meaning. He moves from the book to a person, calling us to move from merely formal doctrine to bear personal witness to Jesus.
We are "on the way" as we move from the creed to personal encounter with Jesus who speaks to our hearts. We are also on "the way," strangely enough, when sin or misfortune forces us out into a desolate place. Even in times of turmoil for the church, we can be "on the way," with Jesus. Just as there are many mansions in the Father's house, so the ways that lead to those mansions are many and varied. The only absolute guideline Jesus gives about staying on the track with him is always couched in terms of love, that agapé which was the hallmark of Jesus' whole life on earth.
Today's gospel is often chosen to be read in the funeral liturgy and is easy to understand why that is so. Jesus assures his troubled disciples that while he is going away from them in death, he is really going back to his Father, journeying back to the one from whom he came into the world. He assures his disciples that the journey he is about to make is one that they too will make one day. He promises to return to take his disciples with him to the Father's house, so that they can be with him forever. Jesus promises the same to all of us, that he will take us to the Father at the end of our lives. He came among us to show us the Father, to reveal God to us. The whole purpose of his mission was and is to bring God to us and to bring us to God.
His description of his Father's house as having many rooms suggests the great hospitality of that house. Heaven, it seems, is not a confined space for a selected few; it is an open space for the many, just as Jesus himself did not come for the few, for the elect, but for all. Jesus is the Way to the Father for all who turn to him in faith. That is why he said, "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." We pray today that we would always take him as our Way so that at the end of our lives we would join him in his Father's house.