GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Pause there for just a second.
I want to break this down as we move through it.
First, what's the context?
Jesus is telling the apostles that he is going to be crucified and that they're going to betray him and that they're going to scatter and deny him.
He's just told Peter that Peter is going to deny him three times and the apostles are starting to be troubled at the fact that Jesus is going to leave.
And so he is giving them here a word of encouragement in the face of his impending death, saying “don't let your hearts be troubled because in my Father's house there are many rooms.”
Now people often translate this as many mansions — I think that is the old King James version — and get excited about having a mansion in heaven, but literally the Greek there is monē.
It's from the Greek word menó,
which means to remain.
So it's a dwelling place, a place where you stay, a place to remain; which is something that Jesus said over and over again, that he wants to remain in us and us to remain in him.
So he says “in my Father's house there are many dwelling places and I'm going to prepare a place for you, that I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you will also be.”
Now what is he talking about here?
Well on one level he's just talking about the fact that he's going to die, be raised and ascend into heaven; and then one day he will return in the second coming to take his people to be with him.
But on another level, in a first century Jewish setting, the imagery here is really evocative because he is also using the language that would have been associated with the Jewish bridegroom.
I go through this in my book Jesus the Bridegroom
in a lot more detail.
There what I tried to show was that one of the customs of a bridegroom is that when the bridegroom and bride in Judaism would be betrothed, they would not immediately live together.
They would be legally married but the bridegroom and bride would be separated for some time while the bridegroom would go off and do certain things to prepare.
Among other things would be to build a home, to build a house for the bride.
And the wedding ceremony was really the procession of carrying the bride into the bridegroom's home so that the marriage could be consummated.
So one of the interesting things — it is like a subtext — is that Jesus is describing himself as the bridegroom, the disciples collectively as the Church, which is his bride, and then heaven is his Father's house.
So just like a Jewish bridegroom would go, prepare a home, and bring his bride to his Father's house — because he would
live on his father’s land, he would have a home in his father's territory, the family land — so too Christ is now promising the apostles, he's telling them, he’s exhorting them I should say, not to be troubled that he's leaving, because just like a bridegroom, he is going to return and bring the Church to himself to be in the heavenly promised land, in the heavenly home with the Father in the life of the Trinity, in the life of heaven.
Now once he says this, Thomas says “well we don't know where you're going.
How can we know the way?”
So they don't quite get what he means about the Father's house and that kind of thing.
So Jesus clarifies by a statement where he says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.”
Now this is one of Jesus's most famous statements in all the Gospels: “I am the way, and the truth, and life.”
And again most people, I think, understand the basic meaning of it, which is that Jesus is the only path to salvation, that he is the sole savior of the world, that he alone can give eternal life.
But I think that in this case there is a little more that we can say about this by looking at the Greek here.
When Jesus says “I am the way,” the Greek word that he uses here is hodos,
which literally means a path or road right.
And we found this imagery elsewhere in the Gospels, like in the Gospel of Matthew, when he talks about the road to heaven or the road to hell.
So in other words he says that “the path to eternal life is narrow and difficult and few are they who find it, but the path to destruction is wide and easy and many are they who find it.”
He says that in Matthew 7.
So the imagery of being the way is simply that of a road that leads you to salvation, that leads you to heaven.
But in this case, notice here, heaven is not just like a kind of invisible Disneyland in the sky.
Sometimes people think of heaven that way.
It is just like this perfect place with lots of clouds and maybe a dry ice machine — kind of like the Hollywood version of heaven.
But Jesus’ vision of heaven here is what?
It is the life of the Trinity.
That's why he says “I am the way and no one comes to the Father but by me.”
So what road is he describing?
He is talking about the road to heaven, meaning the road to the Trinity, the road to the Father, the road to life with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
That is the essence of heaven for him.
And he says “I am the truth.”
In other words, I have the fullness of the truth.
If you look around in our own day, there are so many different religions, so many different cultures and context, and lots of them have little parts of the truth.
There are lots of truth and goodness and beauty in the various major religions of the world.
But Jesus isn't just a piece of the truth, he doesn’t just have some of the truth, he has all of the truth, because he is the truth.
He is the truth come in person.
So he is not just the path to heavenly life and life with God, he is also the fullness of the truth made flesh.
And then finally he says “I am the life.”
Well what is the life he is talking about here?
It is not natural life.
It is not just biological life.
It is not bios
here — which would be the Greek word for what we call natural life.
This is zóé
It is supernatural life, it is eternal life, the life of the Trinity, the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So if you want to have natural life there are all kinds of things you can do.
You can eat good food, you can drink good drink, you could stay healthy and exercise and keep yourself in shape; but if you want zóé,
if you want the life of the world to come, if you want the life of the Trinity, there is only one place you can go, and that is Jesus of Nazareth.
You have to become his disciple.
You have to walk on the path with him, learn the fullness of truth from him and live the life that he lived in order to enter into the life of the Trinity.
And he says that here to Thomas in response to his statement, “how do we know the path.”
Now you can see that he is talking about the Trinity because in the next verses — if we keep going — how does Philip, another one of the apostles, responsd?
I love this.
This is one of my favorite passages:
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.”
It is almost like “alright, alright, I get all this stuff about the way, could you just show us the unveiled face of God?
That is all we really need; we will be happy then.”
A small request right!?
Now Jesus responds:
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
So what's going on here?
Well basically Phillip is asking Jesus to give him what we would call the beatific vision, the vision of the unveiled face of God.
And if you recall in the Old Testament, over and over again — and thew Jews would have known this — you will have someone like Moses say “Lord, show me your glory.”
And what does God say in response?
Man cannot see me and live.
So, for example, in Exodus 34 he shows Moses his backside, but he can't show him his face.
The same thing with Elijah, he goes up on the mountain and hears all these phenomena, all these wonders: thunder, lightening, and an earthquake.
But when he comes out to meet God, God speaks in a still, small voice.
But even in the still, small voice, Elijah has to cover his face.
So you can't see the unveiled face of God.
Phillip is getting a little impatient here and says “just show us the face of God,” and Jesus responds by saying “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father, because the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
So once again, notice here the great mystery of the Trinity, that Jesus and the Father are one.
And that to see Jesus is, in a sense, to behold the face of the invisible God, because as son he bears the “image of his Father.”
You will see this elsewhere in the New Testament, like in Colossians 1:15.
Paul says that “Christ is the image of the invisible God” because the Father never becomes incarnate, but the son does become incarnate.
And just like if you look at my son you can see he looks like me.
Just like in the natural order the son bears the image of the father, all the more Jesus, as the eternal son of eternal Father in the Trinity, he reveals to us the face of God the Father.
So if you've seen him, you have seen God.
That's what he's trying to get Philip to understand, the great mystery of the Trinity.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And that last point is the key. If you look at verse nine, this is a fascinating list. Peter gives a litany here of different images to describe the believers to whom he is writing. And look at how he describes them. They are “a chosen race,” they are “a royal priesthood,” they are “a holy nation, God’s own people.” Now, every one of those epithets would ordinarily, in a first century context, have been applied to the people of Israel. If you go back to the Book of Exodus, for example, chapter 19, when God brings the 12 tribes to Mount Sinai, he says to them:
you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The word holy in Hebrew, kadosh
, literally means set apart. So the 12 tribes of Israel are set apart from all the nations of the world. They're a holy nation.
Priests, they're a kingdom of priests because priests are someone who are chosen to offer worship, to offer sacrifice to God in the tabernacle in Exodus or in the temple at the time of David. So these images, even the image of God's own people, if you go back, for example, to the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament, in chapter 2, verse 23, you'll see that this image of the people of God is a way of expressing the collective people of Israel who are in covenant with God. So for example, in Hosea 2:23, God says:
“And I will have pity on Not pitied,
and I will say to Not my people, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘Thou art my God.’”
So to be the people of God means to be in covenant with God. To be not the people of God means to be out of covenant with God. So this litany of terms that Peter is using to describe the church are Jewish ways of referring to Israel. So effectively, what 1 Peter is doing here in chapter 2 is giving us a theology of the church in which Christ is the new cornerstone, the church is the new temple, and the church is also the new Israel, the new Israel of God, which as I've said in my other lectures on 1 Peter, is not unique to Peter. It's something you're going to see in the letters of Paul. So at the end of Galatians, Paul will famously end his letter to the Church of Galatia by saying, Galatians 6:16:
Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.
So the imagery of the church as the new Israel is really crucial for understanding everything Peter is saying in the first letter because, as we've shown in other videos, the entire theology of 1 Peter is of a church in exile, of a church on a journey, of a church that is moving from this world to the world to come. And just like the Israel of Jewish scripture was taken out of Egypt and became pilgrims, sojourners moving through the desert on their way to the earthly promised land, so too the believers to whom Peter is writing now are also exiles. They are also members of a new covenant. But instead of moving from the earthly Sinai to the earthly Jerusalem, from Egypt to the earthly land of Canaan, they're on a journey. They are exiles who are wandering and on their way to the heavenly promised land of the heavenly kingdom of God, who have been called “out of darkness”, love this image, and “into his wonderful light.”
Now, there's so many things we could say about this passage. It's very foundational for a rich ecclesiology. I would like to highlight, though, two features of it that are important for understanding the theology of the church today, especially in the wake of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. S,o as you probably recall, in 1962-1965, the church had its 21st ecumenical council. And many of the documents are here in this collection, Vatican Council II
, translation by Austin Flannery. It's an excellent translation that I highly recommend. But in that council, there was a lengthy document, one of the major constitutions was Lumen Gentium,
the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. And one of the themes that animates that dogmatic constitution is the description of the church as the people of God, the people of God.
Now, I have to confess being somewhat surprised when I remember one time I was in a class and a student raised a criticism of that because they had heard in certain Catholic circles that the idea of the church as the people of God was a Protestant idea. I said, "Well, that's an interesting point of view. But it might run into the problem that not only is the church as people of God taught in an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, it also appears in what might be the first papal encyclical, which is 1 Peter.” So I would hesitate to charge the First Letter of St. Peter with being too Protestant in its ecclesiology. But that just goes to show you that 1 Peter has suffered the fate of many subsequent encyclicals, which is that no one reads it and pays close attention to it. So let's just first of all dispense with the idea that the epithet or the theology of the church as people of God is anything other than a deeply biblical and deeply apostolic way of reflecting the fact that the church is the covenant people chosen by God through election and then ratified through the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ. I mean, that's what the people of God means.
However, there's a second image here which some Catholics might also think of as Protestant, but which is not Protestant. And that is the imagery of the priesthood of the baptized. Sometimes, for example, Catholics will hear about the priesthood of all believers, primarily through our Protestant brothers and sisters. This phrase was a very popular phrase at the time of the Protestant Reformation. It was used by some Protestant reformers to attack the priesthood, the ministerial priesthood, the ordained priesthood, and say, "Well, all the people of God are priests. Therefore, we don't need a ministerial priesthood.” And that, of course, is an erroneous understanding of priesthood, but it's absolutely crucial for us to recognize that the idea of the priesthood of all believers, properly understood, is neither Protestant nor erroneous. It's also biblical and dogmatic. So the same thing, Lumen Gentium
, the document of Vatican II on the church, taught about the priesthood of the baptized and our participation in it. And of course, it gets it from, once again, 1 Peter. So if you go back and look at the reading for just a second, you'll notice something. Peter describes the believers that he is writing the letter to as a holy priesthood, who are called to offer spiritual sacrifices. And then again, he repeats it in verse nine:
"you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood” — basileon hierateuma
is the Greek there. Hierateuma,
priesthood, is from the root, hiereus
, which is the ordinary common term for a priest. So if someone in the Old Testament is consecrated to offer sacrifice, they're called a hiereus
. And hierateuma
is a state of priesthood.
Now, why is that significant? Well, it's significant because, in the New Testament, the only time the word priesthood is ever used — I’ll make this claim and I think I'm right about this — the only time it's ever used both here in 1 Peter and then again in the Book of Revelation is to refer to all of the baptized and not just to the ministerial priesthood. I know this because I remember when I was a young Catholic starting to study the Catholic faith and starting to try to answer questions and objections to the Catholic faith, I remember being very troubled by the fact that I couldn't find a passage in the New Testament which clearly described ordained ministers as priests. Rather, if you look for the word priest, it tends to get applied to the laity or to all of the baptized. And that's only a problem if you have a misunderstanding of baptism and priesthood. Absolutely, certain people are set apart for what we call the ministerial priesthood, but in the New Testament, the term that tends to get used for them is actually presbyters. They are elders. And even to this day, the ordained priesthood is called the presbyterate from that Greek term, presbyteros
. But according to Peter himself, and according to the Book of Revelation, which we won't look at here, every person who is baptized is baptized into the priesthood of Jesus Christ and is able to exercise that baptismal priesthood precisely by offering sacrifices. Not the sacrifice of the Eucharist, that's what ordained priesthood is for, but by offering what Peter refers to here as spiritual sacrifices in this new priesthood. So the theology of 1 Peter is not just of a new temple or of a new people of God, it's also of a new priesthood to which all of the baptized belong.
You don't have to take my word for it, ou can take the word of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
. So if this language of baptism or priesthood, if it's new to you or if it's just something you've always wondered about, let me call your attention to the teaching of the Church on this matter. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church
, paragraph 786, it actually quotes Lumen Gentium
of Vatican II on two things. First, on the priesthood of all believers and the priesthood of the baptized, and then second, on how that priesthood is exercised, because this is really the key point. If all of the baptized are priests in the New Covenant, in what sense are they priests and how do they offer sacrifice? Because that's what priests are always consecrated to do. And so this is what it says:
On entering the People of God through faith and Baptism, one receives a share in this people’s unique, priestly vocation: “Christ the Lord, high priest taken from among men, has made this new people ‘a kingdom of priests to God, his Father.’ The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.”
So the Catechism there is citing Lumen Gentium
, Vatican II, paragraph 10, which is itself citing 1 Peter, okay? So the idea of the priesthood of all the baptized is something that Vatican II is retrieving and accenting so that we can understand that, if you are in Christ as a baptized person, you have been baptized into a royal priesthood. You are participating in your own way in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Now, that's not in the same way as the ministerial priesthood, that's for another talk for another time, but it is in a real way. So the question is, in what way? How am I a priest in the body of Christ? Catechism 901 answers that question again by quoting Lumen Gentium
, this time paragraph 34, and 1 Peter, okay? So these are crucial texts for understanding who we are as baptized members of Christ. And this is what the Catechism says about the priesthood of the laity. Listen up, this is important:
Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body
, if they are accomplished in the Spirit—indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ
. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives.”
Catechism 901, quoting Lumen Gentium
34, 10 and 1 Peter 2:5. Okay, this is so crucial. If you want to understand what it means to be a member of the priesthood of all believers, you need to realize that it has nothing whatsoever with doing away with the ministerial priesthood, men who are ordained to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist. It has everything to do with you being consecrated through baptism to be a member of the royal priesthood so that in the Eucharist you bring your trials, your works, your prayers, your suffering, your daily life, any apostolic endeavors you might engage in as laypeople, you bring those to the Mass, and then you offer them as spiritual sacrifices, like St. Peter says, in union with the ministerial priest and in union with the offering of the body and the Lord in the mass. This is what you're supposed to be doing at Mass if you're a layperson. You're supposed to be exercising your baptismal priesthood, your royal priesthood, which equips you and enables you to offer spiritual sacrifices to God that are worthy of him and give praise to him through Jesus Christ.
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