A Place Prepared: Reflections on John 14:1-14
Note: Edgy Exegesis is glad to offer this week the reflections of a guest columnist, the Rev. Dr. Gayle Landis.
May 18, 2014
"Do not let your hearts be troubled," seems like a pretty tall order. The disciples do not seem too sure they can do that, given the circumstances. Judas just left in the dark, betrayal on his mind. And Phillip wants Jesus to call God down so he can have proof. Are troubled hearts something we allow to happen? Or are they thrust upon us?
Jesus attempts to still their troubled hearts by telling them he is leaving and he will make a place for them where he is going. On the one hand, it must have comforted them to be included. On the other, I am sure this kind of leaving must have troubled them even more.
When our children were very young, my husband and I moved away from our extended families for the first time. We were suddenly far enough away not to see them every week, and also far enough that a visit required an overnight stay. Visits with three young ones were infrequent and happily anticipated. I worried, though, about bringing three kids into my mother-in-law's house for a few days, instead of a few hours. It was a lot to ask. Usually we left home after work on Friday and arrived very late, long after Grandma and Grandpa's normal bedtime.
I was troubled for nothing. On that first visit and every one that followed our place was prepared. One of my favorite memories of those days was coming into the house as Dave's mom was spreading the blankets out on guest beds and the couch. The time of night did not seem to matter, nor the fact that we were far from home. It was about her love for us, not about distance or trouble.
I think this is part of what Jesus means when he tells them that the only way to the Father is through him. The way home is not about going to a place, it is about the relationships that make the place home. Jesus is going to prepare their place, wherever that may be and whenever they will need it, because he already loves them. All through the Book of John, the writer is trying to share the importance of knowing Jesus. He stresses the kinds of signs that point to who Jesus is and not to the miracle itself. Jesus' long speeches and "I am" statements point to the ways the disciples can relate to Jesus. He speaks of the connections they share and the difference this will make in their lives.
Not allowing a troubled heart need not be seen as a promise of a worry- and fear-free life. If we read verse one that way, it seems to promise too much. But it does say something about the kinds of things that Jesus thinks might trouble them. He wants them to know that the only thing that should trouble their hearts is separation from him. His words about preparing a place should take care of that. Jesus promises that they too will have the ability to share this relationship with others. Part of their job as disciples will be to stay in relationship so they can be the place preparers for future disciples.
John's use of the word "household or family" rather than "house or building" gives the sense of community and relationship. In the Father's household or family there are many ways of being or dwelling. We translate the nominal form of the verb meno, to abide, "dwelling places." Abiding with Jesus weaves its way throughout John as a formative idea.
Gayle Landis is the Senior Pastor of Lakewood United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. She holds a B.S. in Education from Ashland University, Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology, and Doctor of Ministry from Perkins School of Theology. When she is not loving and laughing with the people of Lakewood UMC she enjoys reading stacks of old books, going to the theatre, and puttering in the yard. Gayle and her husband Dave have three children and live in Plano, Texas.