CNS Bible Blog: Jesus’ farewell discourse

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

After the supper (described in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17), Jesus gives a long farewell discourse reminiscent of the sort of teachings that great philosophers and religious figures were expected to give to their followers prior to their departure from this world. It represents a sort of last will and testament.

Many of the verses are repeated several times and the discourse is rather circular. It probably is a compilation of many of the things that Jesus had said at various times in his ministry. Jesus tells them that in the Father’s house there are many dwelling places and he is going to prepare a place for them (14:2). But they are puzzled and can’t understand where he is going and how they can follow even though he insists that they know the way.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

Finally, he must spell it out for his rather slow-witted disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6).

How are we to interpret this? For so long it was thought that one must be a card-carrying Christian in good standing in order to be “saved” and be with God. And we must remember that John would have raised the bar even higher: one must be a member of his particular brand of Christianity. But we must not confuse what Jesus is saying about himself with institutional Christianity.

The “way” is the term given to the earliest Christian communities. It simply means the path — the spiritual path — that leads to God. We saw earlier that when Jesus is portrayed as the “truth” it has nothing to do with doctrine. Jesus simply knows and reveals God as God really is: love and light, in whom there is no darkness or violence. He is the “life” in that he imparts the life-giving spirit of God to all those who open their hearts and minds to him.

Jesus is the divine pattern for what it means to be authentically human and divine. Those wishing to reach God must conform to this pattern regardless of who they are or what label is attached to them. This pattern is love, humble service, and openness to the transcendent and holy. An astounding promise is made in verses 12-14: the believer will do the works that Jesus did and even greater ones!

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A stained glass image of Christ (CNS photo from Crosiers)

If this is true, then it seems that we have missed something. Often we are too literal in our interpretation of the Gospel, others times not literal enough. This instance belongs to the latter. This spiritual empowerment — already indicated in the prologue (1:12-13) — is possible because Jesus shares all that he is and has with his disciples through the gift of the spirit.

But there is an important proviso: disciples must “abide” in Jesus. Abide (menein) appears 10 times in the image of the vine in chapter 15. This image of the vine is similar to that of the body of Christ in 1 Cor 12:12-27; Col 1:18; and Eph 1:22-23. The image indicates that we are totally dependent on Christ for our spiritual power and sustenance. Once cut off from him we wither and die, although we may not realize it immediately. We can even continue to go through the motions of religious practice. One abides in Christ by means of love. Verses 12, 15, 21, and 23 spell it out: If you love me (conditional) you will keep my commandments. It is then that Jesus and the Father will take up residence in the believer’s heart and soul. It describes a mystical union that is a way of life rather than an experience of a few key moments.

Love is the way in which God is known as well as an empowering principle. Love — abiding in Jesus — also transforms human relationships with God. The divine friendship to which Jesus invites his followers means that nothing is hidden and that there is an easy familiarity with the Lord. Being a servant of the Lord is great, but being the Lord’s friend is far better. Which are we?

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4 Responses to CNS Bible Blog: Jesus’ farewell discourse

  1. Mary says:

    I apologize for changing the subject here, but I have been searching for quite some time for a way to respond to a CNS articles entitled: “Biblical Illiteracy can lead to easy manipulation,” which criticized Jehovah’s Witnesses by name for our understanding of scripture, but I could find no outlet for reply to that, so I am replying to a couple of points from that article here.

    Like all children, loving children of God want His direction on what we need to do to please Him and why, but most churches rely so heavily on stained glass windows, rituals and hellfire that they have missed the meat of Bible teaching, the very thing that satisfies the sincere seeker of truth. This meat of teaching–being able to prove from scripture WHY you believe what you do so that you have a deep-seated sureness of it–is one of the things Jehovah’s Witnesses help individuals found through scripture and prayer. We are not afraid to show why we believe the things we do using any copies of the Bible (I personally use several Catholic-approved translations including the NAB, Jerusalem Bible, RSV 2nd ed, and Douay) that the individual wishes to use.

    The article also criticized our understanding of Jn 1:1, “the Word was a god.” And again, research shows that we have sound scripture-based reasons for using this wording. For one, see for an excellent short article that supports the New World Translation and the Emphatic Diaglott rendering of John 1:1 “a god” from the Beatty Sahidic Coptic Text; page 24 of the Nov 1, 08 “Watchtower” magazine, cover article, “Should You Fear Hell?”)

    It is true that many Jehovah’s Witnesses today are former Catholics. But if church hierarchy thinks ignorance is the reason, then that is a screaming witness to their lack of scriptural teaching, as THEY are the ones who already have them as members, and thus they are the ones responsible for keeping them in ignorance!
    For most intelligent adults it’s not enough to say “because I told you so.” They want scriptural proof as to why they should do or believe a certain thing. And certainly, the Bible shows that they are right in wanting to rely on what it says: You cannot water down “Stick to what is WRITTEN.” –1 Corin. 4:6, JB Not a man’s say-so, but God’s through scripture. There would be no purpose for the Bible to exist if we were not to rely on it as God’s word.
    After all, how long do you think fear and emotionalism can last when times get tough and deep questions of faith, scripture understanding, morality and ethics arise?

    Jehovah’s Witnesses dedicated to helping people found a solid scriptural belief and faith (Acts 20:20; Matthew 28:19, 20), and helping them develop a deep personal relationship with both Jesus’ God and Father (on earth, Jn 20:17; in heaven,Rev 3:12) and the Son, Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16).
    The Bible teaches that their eternal life (as opposed to eternal death, Gen. 2:17) depends on it. (John 17:3)

    Thank you,

  2. T. Maria says:

    We need more entries such as this. There is entirely too much beating around the bush about what truth is, and although I realize and abide by the fact that we live in a pluralistic society, the western world has become a collection of “Pontius Pilate” nations, pertaining to when he said to Christ, “What is truth?”

    Great job, Fr. Lewis.

  3. T. Maria says:

    Word press has censored my proclamation of the truth of who Jesus Christ is – I will be sure to seed this truth as far as possible!!!!

  4. jesusloveyou says:

    good story I love jesus

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