Jesus’ most famous discourse in the gospels is the Sermon on the Mount, found in St. Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7. It contains some of Jesus’ deepest moral teachings, as He tells us how we are to orient our hearts to love of God and our neighbor.
The Last Supper Discourse, found in chapters 14-17 of Saint John’s gospel, contains Jesus’ final message to his apostles before His passion. Here He reveals the love that unites the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and invites his closest friends to share in that love.
In this discourse Jesus is preparing his apostles for the ordeal they are about to face, and reminding them that this story has a happy ending. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He tells them at the outset. “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” (John 14:1)
Rather than speaking of His death, He speaks next of the heavenly reward that awaits His disciples: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where [I] am going you know the way.” (John 14:2-4)
While it should be clear to us that Jesus is talking about heaven, the apostles are filled with confusion. Phillip tells Jesus that the apostles don’t know where Jesus is going, so how could they know the way there? Listen to what Jesus says next:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, then you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)
The Torah contained more than 600 laws, and the Pharisees had come to define righteousness as nothing more or less than the observance of those laws. Jesus is redefining righteousness as something more. Jesus is radically redirecting his apostles – and us – to Himself. He is the Truth. He is the Way that leads to Heaven and eternal life. Our path is to know Him – not just know about Him, but to cultivate through prayer a personal relationship with Him, our Lord and King – love Him and serve Him. Jesus demonstrated what service looked like when He washed his apostles’ feet, taking on the lowliest task of the lowliest servant. He will have more to say about love later in this discourse.
Note the deep Trinitarian aspect of the discourse too. “If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” Repeatedly Jesus emphasizes His unity, His communion, with His Eternal Father.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you… The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.” (John 14:12-17)
Having just spoken of His unity with the Father, Jesus begins talking specifically about the Holy Spirit. Jesus has spoken little to His apostles about the Holy Spirit previously. He is now preparing them not just for the Passion and Resurrection, but for Pentecost, and their mission to make disciples of all nations. There is again a Trinitarian message here: Jesus is the Truth, and He will send His disciples the “Spirit of Truth,” which will remain with you and be in you. Jesus described His communion with the Father before. Now He is inviting His apostles into communion with the Holy Spirit.
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” (John 14:19-20)
This is for me the mind-blowing part of the whole discourse: On that day (the day when the Risen Lord appears to the apostles) “you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Seeing Jesus in His risen glory will unveil His communion with God the Father. Not only that, the disciples of Jesus are called to abide in that communion as well. We will live in Him, and He will live in us, and together we will live in the Father. If we imagine the Trinity as a circle uniting Three Persons in one God, we are invited into that circle. The circle expands so that all of the followers of Christ can enter into that communion of love. Praise God that we are called to be united with Christ in love!
Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:23-24, 27)
The peace Jesus offers is an internal peace. It is not external. It is the peace Jesus has asleep on the boat while the storm rages around Him, knowing that He can calm the winds at any moment. He offers us that peace. He does not offer His disciples a life free of tribulation, but He promises to be with us in the boat. And more: “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.” He answers our prayers. He decides where, and when, and how, because His ways are infinitely superior to ours, but we can rest assured that He hears and answers our prayers.
I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. (John 14:30-31)
In John’s gospel Jesus emphasizes that Pilate and the Pharisees only appear to have power over Him. He chooses to do His Father’s will. The Passion demonstrates the depth of Christ’s love for us, but it also demonstrates the depth of His love for His Father.
My next post will look at John 15.
Image: The Last Supper by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan Bouveret (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).