May 10, 2020
If someone were to ask you, what is it that would take away all the trouble in your heart? All that weighs it down or causes inward commotion. All that stirs anxiety - If someone came to you and asked what would it take to lift the trouble in your heart, what would you say? (Consulted work: Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2)
It is a bit overwhelming to ponder. Partly because it simply seems impossible. Particularly now. A pandemic. Death. Grief that is complicated by social distancing, wellbeing also complicated by social distancing limitations. Fear. A dire financial situation. Anxiety…and more…
What do you need to not have a troubled heart?
That is where our gospel reading begins today. Jesus is answering that question. In the narrative of John, just prior to this in chapter 13, Jesus had foretold his betrayal, washed their feet, spoken the new commandment to love one another, and told Peter, “before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”
Their hearts are heavy…troubled. There is more happening than they can understand, and they know it is bad personally and for everyone…a little like our feelings with covid-19. We do not understand it. It is bad for everybody. And it is bad for us personally.
Jesus does not frame this lifting of hearts with a question. We start with a bit of exhortation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” In the Greek, the word for heart is Kardia…cardia…like heart. But it is broader, not just referring to our physical heart. It is about the control center of life. All that makes us work (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). Do not let your control center, where all comes together for the momentum of your daily life become troubled – become agitated, under commotion, anxious.
That is a giant exhortation.
After the exhortation, it is almost like there is a sentence missing, something like: I have got you. I have got what you need for this.
Jesus is offering what we need to not have troubled hearts.
We may picture crazy tangible generosity to be offered at this point…but no, that is not where this is going.
The way to alleviate the heavy heart Jesus proclaims is to “believe in God, believe also in me.” What?
If you listen for it, the word believe is used six times in our gospel reading today. That is a lot. In conversations with friends and those close to us, like in scripture. When something is said over and over, it is worth paying attention to – it is a theme.
In our considerations together today, it is important for us to think about parts of speech to words used. Here, believe is a verb, each time it is used. It is something you do. It is not a noun; it is not about being. It is a verb. It is active.
Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”
There is a simplicity to this, but it is also complicated. Sounds like the Christian life: it is simple, but it is not easy.
Our belief leads us to respond and to act.
The other verb form to pay attention to is in Jesus’ explanation of this exhortation to Thomas, who claims to Jesus, like we may have the propensity to: I do not know where you are and I do not know how to get to you.
To this Jesus articulates what may be a familiar statement to us: “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” I am. This may be well known to us for a couple of reasons. First, it harkens back to the book of Exodus when Moses is talking with God at the burning bush. Moses is told to lead Israel and is in a bit of a dither about it and says to God: “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his [God’s] name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” Further God said: “This is my name forever, and this is my title for all generations.” I am.
The second reason this may seem familiar to us is that in John’s gospel Jesus uses seven different “I am” statements. He is declaring the divine name and fusing is to human need or desire when talking about himself.
In this phrase I am, am is a verb too. It is present tense, the first person singular of the verb ‘be.’ Way back God was stating “my name forever” is I am present, with you. Actively present.
Jesus is saying I am actively present. Take that in a minute…that is a truth every day, all the time. Later in the passage Jesus is also declaring he is in union with God the Father. They are the same…I am…
Jesus is responding to Thomas’ claim that he is lost in how to do this – how to find and be with God – Jesus replies: I am actively present with you as the way. I am actively present with you as the truth, I am actively present with you as the life.
Jesus is saying I am the way. I am actively present with you in the journey.
He is stating I am the truth. I am actively present with you as objective truth. Not only am I objective truth but I reveal truth. I am reveals - revelatory in nature.
Jesus is also declaring I am the life. In the Greek life here is the word Zoe. Eternal life. Life as God has it. Jesus is saying that I am actively present to you with life in fullness to share with you. That we as Christians actively participate now and forever in the very being of God – the union of relationship that exists within the Trinity.
Jesus is showing us a lot in this text. And it illuminates the verb believe as the solution to a troubled heart. It is active faith in God that lifts us from our troubles.
Remember, believe is a verb.
We journey with God.
We expect God to reveal God’s self to us.
We have union with God now and forever and participate in a quality of life that is the stuff – the quality and caliber – of the relationship within the Trinity.
That will shake up our troubled hearts. It also underlines to us, that in our Christian spirituality, we are not constrained by our circumstances. Because we are more. We have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe, and we are a people on our way somewhere – to be forever together with God. And there is nothing that can thwart that.
I would like to close with a quote on this passage from Thomas a Kempis’ work Imitation of Christ. Thomas a Kempis was a 15th century theologian. Since he lived in the 15th century it was written in an older style of proper English – but hang with it, it contributes to our taking this in. He expands on this I am statement of Jesus: “Follow thou me. I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If thou remain in my way, thou shalt know the truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold of eternal life.”