TRANSLATION AND COMMENTARY ON JOHN’S GOSPEL
“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. There are many lodgings in my father’s house. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to make a place ready for you? And if I go and make a place ready for you, I will come back and take you beside me, so that you may be where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Thomas says to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus says to him, “I am the way, the reality and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. If you had known me, you would know the father; indeed, as from now you have known him and seen him.”
Philip says to him, “Lord, show us the father and we’ll be content.”
Jesus says to him, “All this time I’ve been with you, Philip, and you don’t know me! Whoever has seen me has seen the father, so how can you say, show us the father? Don’t you trust that I am in the father, and that the father is in me? The words I speak to you, I do not speak on my own authority but the father who dwells in me does his deeds. Trust me that I am in the father and the father in me. If not, put your trust in the deeds themselves. Amen, Amen, I tell you, whoever trusts in me will do the deeds that I do; in fact she will do greater deeds than these, because I am going to the father; and whatever anyone asks in my name I will do it, so that the father may be honoured in the son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”
Anyone who has tried to translate this famous passage will know at first hand the varied uses of verb tense and mood within it. I cannot claim to have understood them all, but I think the words of Jesus are intended to assert the present reality of God in Jesus. The past leads into this presence; the future flows from this presence, the conditional is met by it. The whole discourse of Jesus also uses the image of the house of God. This has a long history which involves the ark of the covenant and the Temple, as well as the messianic “house” of David. The reader has to be aware that the word means both house and household. Jesus says he dwells in God as in a temple, as any good Jew might say; but he also claims that God dwells in him as in temple, which involves narrowing the place of God ‘s indwelling from the whole people to the one son of God.
The disciples are reassured that Jesus “journey” into suffering and death is in fact a means of making ready a place for his followers. I have often in the past noted that the task of making a house ready for the family was a woman’s task in Israel as in other patriarchal societies. But in the specific instance of a wedding, it is the Bridegroom who conducts the Bride to the house he has prepared for her. As the writer here sees Jesus as the Messiah/ Bridegroom, his mention of “making ready” a place for his disciples probably expresses this image.
People get to the father’s house through Jesus. He is the way to follow, the reality of God’s goodness to be revealed , the life of the New Age to be received. The disciples’ knowledge and sight of God is put in the perfect tense ( “have known now”) because it is accomplished by Jesus’ death.
The doctrine of Jesus as the house and household of God is emphasised. The indwelling father works in Jesus, giving him words and deeds, so that even those who cannot get their heads round God present in a human being, can trust in Jesus’ compassionate deeds. The concept of the mutual in-dwelling of The father and Jesus goes beyond notions of inspiration: The father is present to humanity in Jesus while Jesus is present to humanity in the father. There is no way to the father that by-passes Jesus. This saying should be interpreted inclusively. All who come to the father come by way of Jesus whether they name him or not, but those who do name him are assured that Jesus will work for them and in them.
Jesus even promises that his followers will do greater things than he has done, because of his journey to the father. The love unleashed by Jesus’ death as the victim and conqueror of human evil will outdo even his own ministry on earth. All these ideas are deepened and broadened in the rest of Jesus’ discourse, as we shall see. Meanwhile a prayer of John Donne about God’s house is added for those who know it, but especially for those who don’t:
“Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity: in the habitations of thy majesty and glory, world without end.”