There are people who have the extraordinary gift of being able to exude a calm, non-anxious presence, even in the most trying of times. They are not oblivious to suffering and troubles, but they do not allow these to turn them into grim bearers of sad tidings. Nor are they bright-eyed optimists who resolutely see the sunny side of every situation. It is not that they absolve themselves from involvement in caring for those who are suffering or from rectifying injustices. Rather, their outward joy is a reflection of a deep-seated hope and trust in God no matter what the circumstances. They have been able to take to heart in a profound way Jesus’ admonition to his disciples in today’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” You know people like this. Are you one of them?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus not only exhorts his disciples to have untroubled hearts but helps them know how to find the way there. The setting is the Last Supper, and the disciples have plenty of reasons to be distressed. Jesus has been speaking of going away and of being handed over and of being denied by two of his closest friends. The disciples are confused and anxious. Where is he going and how can they know the way to be with him? Unlike the Gospel of Mark, where a central question is “Who is this?” (2:7; 4:41; 8:29), throughout the fourth Gospel the prime concern is “where.” The first potential disciples want to know “Where are you staying?” (1:38). Jesus knows from where he has come and to where he is going, but his enemies do not (7:27; 8:14; 9:29). In Jesus’ trial Pilate demands to know, “Where are you from?” (19:9). At the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene’s distress centers on Jesus’ whereabouts: “we do not know where they have laid him” (20:2; see also 20:13).
Throughout the fourth Gospel, where does not refer to a geographical space but to inner communion with Jesus, which rests on belief in God and belief in him. Jesus desires for his followers the same kind of indwellling that he enjoys with the Father, as he prays, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (17:21). Oftentimes Jesus’ assertion that there are many dwelling places in his Father’s house and that he is going to prepare a place for the disciples (14:2) is taken literally. Some Christians envision a heavenly mansion, where Jesus is reserving “a room with a view” for those who are faithful to him. But the dwelling place of which Jesus speaks is a profound union with him that is both a present reality and a continually deepening movement that will be brought to completion in the fullness of time.
This is not an easy thing to grasp, nor is it an easy journey. Yet in another sense, there is nothing more simple: Jesus himself is the way. Thomas, who in John’s Gospel always voices the believer’s doubts and misunderstandings, blurts out, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (v. 5). An easy sidestep is to claim not to know the way. Another diversionary tactic is voiced by Philip, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (v. 8). His willingness to settle for a mere glimpse of the One who invites us into deep, abiding union is like stopping at a cheap motel when palatial accommodations are offered. We do know the way into the untroubled heart of God, and we have seen the fullness of the divine visible in Jesus. Believing and following him, even in the face of death, our hearts can be “stilled and quieted...like a weaned child on its mother’s breast” (Ps 131:2).