“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Hints throughout the Gospels indicate that the apostles did not share Jesus’ notions of God, even after they’d been with him for quite some time. To give but one example: When Samaritan villagers refused Jesus hospitality, James and John ask if they can call down fire upon them (an act Jesus forbids). Although they had been with Jesus since the beginning, they had not grasped his teachings on the Father’s mercy and evenhanded generosity. In John’s Gospel, from which our reading this week comes, Jesus repeatedly stressed his unity with the Father. Even in one of his final addresses, however, his disciples still do not recognize the significance of that teaching.
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn 14:9)
When you say the word God, what image comes to mind? How close is that image to the example of Jesus Christ?
How can your love be more like Christ’s?
How can your service be more like Christ’s?
This is not surprising. Scripture says that God created humanity in the divine image and likeness, but it is more common to see humans imagining divinities much like themselves. Deities in classical mythology, although they could be noble and powerful, were subject to the same temptations and moral weaknesses as the humans who worshipped them. Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths describe gods possessing the same qualities as the ideal king, blurring the line between royal and divine power. In our own day, some scholars have identified a set of beliefs, called “moralistic therapeutic deism,” that they claim is the default religion of many in the United States. Not surprisingly, the deity worshipped in this system has many of the qualities of a good American: approachable, eager to help solve problems, supportive of individual expression and generally tolerant of low-key affluence.
Our Gospel reading today reminds us that in Jesus, we encounter all we know of God. “The words I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.” This is a key teaching of John’s entire Gospel. Jesus is God’s only self-description, God’s only commandment and God’s only dream for humanity. In other words, if we model our life on Christ, not only will we be fulfilling God’s will, we will become the kind of humans God has always dreamt of and we will reflect God’s grace to all we meet. This is what Jesus means when he says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.” Only by believing in Christ and fashioning our lives after his can we become like the Father, who is perfect divine love.
Sometimes following Christ’s example means we take on a specific service, like the teachers and servants of the poor in the first reading. Sometimes discipleship is something more general, a spiritual stance that guides every decision. Either way, those who follow Christ, even when they have little worth in human eyes, become icons of the only true God. In the words of the second reading, such disciples are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people of his own.” They are a sign of hope, confirming that God is still at work in the world and calling everyone “out of darkness and into his wonderful light.”