Know Jesus, Know the Father
Fifth Sunday of Easter
How long do you think it would take to get to know another person well? You might say that depends on how much time you spend together. Many among us know well the experience of friendship, when all you want to do is spend time with your friends. Teenagers especially know what that’s like. You’re texting them as soon as you get up in the morning. You see them on Facebook before breakfast. You see them on the bus to school. You see them all day at school. You see them after school. And when you get home, you’re still texting them and visiting with them on Facebook all the way up to when you turn the lights out. It helps that you are communicating with your friends, sharing your ideas, your hopes and dreams, your joys and struggles, what makes you laugh, what makes you sad, what makes you fuming mad. At least with them, you have eliminated the natural defenses we often build to protect against getting hurt or rejected. Over time, especially after being together so much, you think know your friends quite well.
Yet many parents sometimes find themselves estranged from their children. They discover one day they have lost that vital connection from years past when their children were willing to tell them everything … and I mean everything. Suddenly they have strangers living in the house, and not just any kind of strangers, but strangers who weren’t always strangers, who they thought they knew well, and who all of a sudden don’t even like being around them. It can be such a mystery to them because parents know they’re the people who have spent the most time with their children all their lives. So if anyone should know their children best, it would be them. Right?
Well, at least we can agree there is no guarantee you will come to know another person well simply because you spend a lot of time with them, unless you communicate well with them also. So then, if good communication is taking place between people, how long would it take to get to know them well? People who are married will have a variety of answers. Some have known each other since college, or high school, or grade school, or kindergarten. Some just only met last year, or last month, or last week, or yesterday. There is no hard and fast rule. But I will always recommend more time than less before making a life-long commitment.
So when Philip asked Jesus, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us,” we can understand why Jesus was a little disappointed. “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” Jesus spent three years in public ministry teaching, healing and performing signs, and his closest friends were with him for the duration. We know he spoke with them privately on occasion, going much deeper into the lessons he tried to teach the crowds, and explaining the parables to them. They must have had one-on-one encounters with him, the way good teachers take time to reach their students on a personal level. And according to Jesus, that would have been enough time to get to know him well. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” You know the Father because you know me. Do you really know me?
The Christian community at the time of the apostles encountered a snag in the smooth running of their affairs. Some saw it as an issue of injustice, others as an issue of neglect. Nonetheless, they took the occasion to patiently and lovingly approach the apostles for a solution. It was essential to their ongoing and successful experience of community life to deal with their difficulties honestly and maturely. So with prayer and discernment, the community took a realistic look at their needs and listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They believed Jesus Christ was truly in their midst, nourishing them with his life, strengthening them to face their many challenges. And because they believed they knew Jesus’ heart and mind, they were confident they knew the Father’s heart and mind. They chose seven men from among their number who were leaders and examples of faithful Christian living, and with the approval of the apostles, they entrusted them with a specific and important task. This course of action enabled the rest of the community to focus on their other responsibilities.
We are also a community with many pressing needs and challenges. Here at St. John’s for a few months now, we have taken time to gather on several occasions in prayer and discernment to look honestly and maturely at our needs and challenges, and to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly in our midst, nourishing us with his life, strengthening us to face our many challenges. So we are confident we can know the heart and mind of Jesus if we trust he is with us, if we are faithful to our baptismal calling, and if we listen to one another. We have shared patiently and lovingly many excellent and interesting ideas, and we have encouraged one another to keep praying for guidance and inspiration. In today’s bulletin, I have included a letter inviting all parishioners once again to help with the next step.
I ask your help to identify seven members of the community who we recognize as leaders and examples of faithful Christian living, to look at all the data and information that has been gathered from the input of parishioners, the bishop, the county and our local community, and propose several plans (3 or 4), creative, practical, well-reasoned, and viable plans for the prayerful consideration of the whole parish. I want to form this task force in the next two weeks so that they can proceed with the important work ahead. There are many things that will occupy us in the coming months, but I am hoping this task force will do their work well and enable the rest of us to focus on our other responsibilities.
Now we are not merely a random group of individuals who happen to gather together each week for mass. We are members of the body of Christ confident that we are called to continue the mission that Jesus entrusted to his church, specifically here in the Diocese of Richmond, here in the Shenandoah Valley. We count among our number residents from Augusta county, and Rockbridge, Rockingham, Albemarle, and Nelson counties. We are a diverse group from many backgrounds, but we come together for a common purpose – to celebrate our one faith and one baptism in Jesus Christ, to worship and offer sacrifice to God together, to be fed by the Word and nourished by the Eucharist, to faithfully pass on the Catholic faith to our children and all who seek full communion with us, to grow in greater unity and love for one another, and to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ by lives of service to our neighbor and those in need. We are, as we read in the first letter of Peter, “like living stones, [being] built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
I am confident we will be able to meet the needs of our people if we keep in mind that we do not do this alone. If we are willing to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we will know the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. And if we know Jesus Christ, we should be able to say we know the Father. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus tells us. “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”