Grace Beyond Human Understanding
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
As always scripture needs context. The disciples were troubled–but why? Several disturbing things had happened in the previous chapter. First, Jesus had washed his disciples feet and told them:
“Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.
What was he talking about?—What master washes the feet of his servants?—the clean are greater than the unclean—kings are better than errand boys. But Jesus demonstrated the life he wanted them to live. That kind of genuine humility and willingness to show regard to others is a high ideal but it is difficult to find in real life. How could the disciples wrap their head around such thinking—much less live that way?
But then Jesus told them even more disturbing news— he would be betrayed by one of them, he would be leaving them (“Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”) and Peter would deny he ever knew him. The very people who loved and followed Jesus would fail him. That’s too close to home. It is hard enough to hear that Jesus calls us to such radical service but then he announced how truly limited the disciples were. How would you like to hear at your commencement address—”You are called to serve others, to trust in God and to intentionally give up all pretensions of superiority. And though that is what I teach you, you will fail. You will claim to follow me but when the chips are down, you will serve yourselves instead of me.” So much for upward and onward on the journey of life.
No matter how close we get to Jesus or how devout we seek to be, we are just as vulnerable to seeking to advance ourselves at the expense of others (Judas)—or of protecting ourselves when we feel threatened (Peter). We default to protecting ourselves and we default to advancing our self interest. If we think for a moment that we are above such behavior, the truth is not in us.
Think about how difficult it is to listen to someone who is angry with you. Listening means taking in another person’s displeasure—and it doesn’t matter if it is ‘deserved.’ I have a client whose wife left him when he was diagnosed with Parkinsons. He feels deceived and abandoned. He never imagined his last years would be spent alone and in slow decline. He is offended that his ex wife is angry with him. He says “I know I didn’t help the situation but….” His accountability is undermined by his explanations.
But in real life, these stories are always more complex. Healing has required that after the shock, loss and indignation, he actually has to listen to his wife’s complaints. He can do something about how he has acted. He can do nothing about her. He has to give up all pretension to superiority to move forward. To his credit that is the path he has chosen. It is a long journey. Living the faith is a whole lot harder than understanding it.
Similarly, for many of us who aspire to love, our greatest prejudice is against prejudiced people. No matter how human and no matter how commonplace, such thinking is in real life, it is sinful thinking. We are part of the problem the minute we divide our world into ‘higher and lowerer’—better than or worse than. That thinking is self aggrandizing and it is opposite of what Jesus teaches. It is nearly impossible to be genuinely curious about those who disagree and/or threaten us. We will always fail to love as Jesus loved. And it is worse to realize that any of us can stand on the wrong side of Jesus.
Jesus knew that about his disciples and he knows it about us. There is plenty to be troubled about. When we know we have failed, we expect consequences. But then, the humanly unexpected happens. Jesus comforts them. In the full knowledge of who they are, Jesus says: “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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus does not judge as humans judge. He will not abandon us. That’s what God’s love means. By any earthly standard, they did not deserve such love, but God’s love has never been limited to earthly standards and definitions.
There is no judgment, scolding or shaming. Jesus does not hold such failing against the disciples. Even on the cross, he says: “Forgive them…” Can you remotely imagine promising someone who you knew was going to cause you harm that they would always have a home with your family? Yet that is what God means when he says he loves us. That is the way, the truth and the life. We know this because it is how Jesus loved. We are not called to be Jesus. We are called to follow his path.
This passage is about God’s grace and it is a demonstration of the way that grace is lived in the world by Jesus. He sees us as we are and he offers us a home with him. Christ lived to show us what God means when God says I love you. Christ lived to show us what that love looks like in real life. Try to remember that grace when you pray in his name. Try to remember that grace when you are tempted to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. Try to remember that grace is the way the truth and the life. All of our creeds, commandments and professions of faith are worthless if they are not in service of God’s love.
Hear the Good News. It is reliable and worthy of full acceptance. Let it be so.